As a boy growing up in Texas in the 80s, I committed many atrocities: I liked my burgers well done, plain, and dry, and I never appreciated football season. In retrospect, you could say the pressure applied to Texans is just toxic masculinity—i.e. what’s wrong with you for not worshiping our state sport?—but it was also enforced on girls (as well as boys) from a very early age.
I spent my childhood in Dallas, a city with an absurd number of sports franchises: Sidekicks soccer, Stars hockey, Mavericks basketball, Rangers baseball, and, of course the famous Dallas Cowboys football. You could say you held no interest in the first three and still be considered “normal” by Texas standards, but to spurn the Cowboys, or even worse, your own high school football team? Good luck having the semblance of a social life or engaging in any kind of the small talk our state is famous for.
As with many boys, my relationship with sports went hand-in-hand with that of my father. I have scattered memories of him watching me from the sidelines as five-year-old me struggled to understand the rules of soccer (don’t you just keep kicking the ball until someone cheers?), but most of our shared experiences are from baseball, both in the context of my little league team (which he coached) and third-base-side season tickets at The Ballpark in Arlington.
Truth be told, baseball and I didn’t get along: I missed fly balls, couldn’t throw to the infield properly, and often struck out from spectacularly high pitches. Yet I don’t recall my dad— in a movie moment— ever pulling me aside to the bleachers after a game to yell at me about my performance. It’s entirely possible he did, but sports held so little importance in my life that the emotional memories just didn’t stick. I just saw them as a way to spend time with friends and get pizza after games. The drive to be better, or to find enthusiasm in watching anything athletic on TV, was never there.
Attending Texas Rangers games was more or less the same. I remember us navigating traffic on the interstate past Six Flags and other Arlington attractions and arriving at least 30 minutes early to see these professional athletes toss the ball around. While these men in their peak physical shape showed off their prowess, I found refuge in giant hot dogs and leaving my seat to explore the ballpark. I knew I couldn’t be away for too long, but almost anything else in the venue was more attractive than the game itself: the seventh-inning-stretch entertainment, the souvenir shops, and the sodas as big as your head. While my dad would continue listening to post-game coverage on the radio as we slowly made our way out of the parking area, I would be staring out the window thinking of getting back into playing Zelda.
The power of my apathy was so strong I did something unthinkable by Texas standards, certainly punishable by exile if it were widely known. It’s hard (for me) to say how the hierarchy of Texas football lines up, but there are decidedly three levels: high school, university, and professional. As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, home of the Texas Longhorns, arguably the most famous team in the country (OU sucks), I NEVER attended a game.
My dorm room was a mere 200 feet from the stadium. On weekends, I could hear the massive cheers coming from the east. Still, I never felt the pull to go. Not for championships. Not for rival school games (Aggies suck too). Not even on TV from my twin bed or a bar in West Campus. College was full of thousands of new experiences, but breaking my football fast was never one of them.
It’s difficult to say how my attitude to sports has affected the relationship with my father. Even to this day, when he picks me up from the airport for a family gathering after months or years apart, he still tends to start the conversation with the latest football game, knowing full well I haven’t engaged him on the topic in 37 years. I try to find some middle ground in viral sports moments that reach beyond fan circles—e.g. a truly crazy catch or some scandal concerning drugs or abuse—but just as when I was a kid, he seems incapable or unwilling to try to reach me on my terms.
How does this affect me today? Politically, I believe it made me more objective when the steroids scandals in baseball blew up, when the concussions scandals blew up in major league football, and when Kaepernick took a knee. When many of my childhood acquaintances inevitably took up an interest in sports and found I didn’t share it, our friendship deteriorated.
I am actively aware that refusing to give the smallest s#$t about sports is akin to ignoring a significant part of my heritage, both as a Texan and as a man. Even the call for submissions from GMP, “Why Do Men Care So Much About Sports?” implies that men are predisposed to liking team sports. Readers can make their own judgment—it’s already inconceivable to members of my family. I’ve even had strangers question my sexuality as I’m supposed to be a red-blooded, meat-eating, sports-loving, womanizing southerner. At least they got the meat part right.
I had the classic American boy experience of having a catch with my dad on the front lawn as the leaves crunched beneath our feet in the autumn, but I also know how much easier my relationship with both him and my brother would be if I could just force myself to watch and actually enjoy a game from time to time. Whatever limited childhood joy there was from baseball has long since dissipated, and I stick to running, cycling, and weights in lieu of throwing any kind of ball—or watching millionaires throw them better.
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