I don’t much care for sports.
Not like I used to, anyway. It’s not an exaggeration to say that for the decade of the 90s, my sports fandom was the defining characteristic of my identity. It was less all-encompassing in the DC era, especially after the turn of the millennium, but still present. And it underwent some evolution after moving to California, but things have changed a lot in the last five or six years.
First off, Cal football has gone by the boards. After the debacle of the Sonny Dykes era, it just wasn’t worth it to make the haul up there for games, not least because season tickets mean you’re giving up every other weekend of the autumn to spend a long time on public transit, have a drive back and forth to get to said transit, a big vertical climb and uncomfortable seats and if you don’t have a tailgating crew to call your own, it’s hardly worth the effort.
And to be honest, the joy being sucked out of college football is real, and it’s gone. There’s a lot you have to gloss over – unpaid labor, rampant sexual misconduct, and especially down South, a barely-literate fanbase who latched onto it because it’s the most violent thing the Scotch-irish can affiliate themselves to without going to jail – and it’s a lot to take and a lot to swallow in exchange for the opportunity to sit in the sun for four hours and watch your brains get dashed in by fans and players that will overlook anything up to and including felony rape if it means they have a shot at some terrible made-for-ESPN bowl. Thus did Vanderbilt football go by the boards, because membership of the SEC is an obstacle to ethical competition – and while I hope Clark Lea will make a good fist of it, I’m realistic about what can be accomplished by anyone in that league trying to be a school with a football team and not the other way around.
So what about the rest of Vanderbilt sports? Well, the brief wave of the 2010s was great, and baseball is apparently good to stay – and is playing for a national championship as I write this, and I’m not watching, because the joy of victory is never as great as the pain of losing when you’re on social media and surrounded by the kind of illiterate Q-bags who went batshit loonball as soon as NC State was disqualified for half a dozen COVID positives and unable to field a squad. At this point, the easiest way to watch Vanderbilt baseball is to turn on a major league game and watch the alumni, who are plentiful especially around here – guys like Tony Kemp and Mike Yazstremski, the sort who take a knee for Black Lives Matter with their backs ramrod straight and cap held over heart just like Tim Corbin coaches.
So, baseball then? Sure, I suppose. I do watch the Giants more now than I ever did in the first half-dozen years of living here, but it’s not necessarily an every night sort of thing. I also have the ability to watch all televised minor league games, which in a way are even better: you can barely worry about competition over the year in the minors, because your best players could get snatched up at any moment by the parent club, so all that really matters is: are you going to win tonight? And that doesn’t even matter that much in the end, because there are a hundred twenty other games just like it. The long slog of the baseball season is actually good for the emotional content.
Similarly, I watch a lot more Premier League soccer than I used to, mostly on weekend mornings when it’s a cozy thing to put on and pretend you’re somewhere else. While I’m notionally a Fulham fan, their departure from the big league doesn’t really have that much impact; I officially support almost half a dozen soccer teams with no real interest in how they’re doing or where I can see them. Fifteen years ago, we were watching Celtic and Newcastle United regularly on Setanta or Fox Sports Channel and knew the players and were pulling for Champions League results, and now, if Birmingham Legion wins a game I might go back and watch the replay on ESPN+.
Basketball is long gone. The Warriors were a rocket ride until they signed Kevin Durant, at which point it became the same joyless death march to a championship that Alabama football has become under Nick Saban. I’d rather watch the Santa Cruz Warriors, honestly, and they do have a lot of games televised…when they’re playing, that is. The NBA as a wider phenomenon is cool, and I appreciate it, but I’m not stuck in. And the NFL and NHL have long since disappeared from my sightline; I don’t even remember for sure if I snuck in a ride-around for Washington last season. And even that’s not interesting, because the entire old radio team has turned over and their replacement were themselves turfed out because the Organization Formerly Known As Deadskins were every bit as sexist, corrupt, incompetent and indifferent to human life as any college organization.
And behind most everything is the ever-present and unavoidable ESPN. Oddly enough, the baseball and soccer? Mostly come through something other than ESPN. But the endless bullshit of the Narrative is ESPN’s core practice and if you don’t have a part in the Narrative, you don’t fit. So we get endless Lebron and Tebow and Jeter and Duke and U$C and Yankees-Red Sox and the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE. and cookie cutter bullshit announcing and talk show bloviation and none of the kinds of stuff that made Sportscenter at 11 PM in 1996 appointment television.
I’m tired of being stressed. I’m tired of being superstitious. I’m tired of the social media shitstorm. (Of which more later.) I’m tired of being told how excited I am and how American this is and that I care about the Super Bowl or Trevor Lawrence or Tom Brady. The only things I care to bother with are baseball and soccer that I don’t follow too often or too closely. Emotional engagement with sports no longer sparks joy for me. This would have been an obvious statement about myself at any point in my life until I graduated high school (except for Bama football, obviously) but probably sounds insane to anyone who has met me since, but there it is. Given the choice, I took two episodes of Ken Burns’ 1994 documentary over an actual College World Series game by Vanderbilt – not because I take getting there for granted, because any Vanderbilt sports fan never takes any success for granted, but because the actual competition is too fraught with anxiety and mental conflict to actually be enjoyable any longer.
I guess it’s a good thing I took up the Woodrow.