Seriously. I can hardly think of a bigger waste of time than being a devoted fan and spectator of sports. Some dedicated sports fans seem to see their dedication as a virtue—right up there with faith, hope, and charity—and the absence of it in others as shameful. As for me, I’ve wasted—and continue to waste—way too much of my life on sports. So this post isn’t a criticism of others. It’s a cry for help; an attempt at self-therapy.
I’m 48 years old. I’ve spent at least 39 years attached to various sports teams. Other than a few somewhat vague memories of watching Spencer Haywood of the Sonics with my Dad back in the three-to-make-two days of the NBA; driving around on Saturdays in the car with my Dad listening to Sonny Sixkiller (no kidding, that was his name) throw the ball for the Huskies; and watching (admirably) vicious Bob Gibson pitch for the Cardinals on a little black-and-white TV—again with my Dad (I may have identified the source of the problem! just kidding, Dad)—my real addiction to sports crack began on April 6, 1977.
On that night, I laid on our hallway floor just below our wall-mounted radio listening to Dave Niehaus call the first-ever game for the Seattle Mariners for three hours. In what can clearly be understood now as a precursor of things to come—for at least as long as the Children of Israel wandered in the desert—and with the promised land still nowhere in sight!—they lost 7-0. But! The next night, they lost just 2-0. They were obviously moving in the right direction and I felt encouraged—even optimistic—just as I’ve felt on about 8,000 nights since then.
Let’s say that, on average, since April 1997 I’ve been emotionally attached to about five teams each year (between the Mariners, Seahawks, Sonics, Sounders, UW football, BYU football, and BYU basketball). That’s about 200 sports seasons I’ve lived and (mostly) died through. Guess how many of them ended with a meaningful win? Guess how many of them did not end in disappointment? Three. Three! The 1978-79 Sonics, the 1984 Cougars, and the 2013-14 Seahawks. (Three and a half if I count the 1995 Seattle Mariners.) That’s less than 2%—and a long, long way beneath the Mendoza line.
Not that winning seasons justify the time and emotional energy invested in sports-watching. Winning seasons are actually the worst because they suck you in all the more. In fact, with most teams most seasons, there comes a moment (with the Mariners, it’s usually when they lose for the fiftieth time somewhere around early May) where I’m so fed up that I emotionally let go of the team and the season and then something amazing happens. I feel like a man born again, relieved of my Sisyphean burden. The sky is blue again and I can hear the birds. But then I find out they’ve won a couple of games in a row and… I’m back on the crack.
Some of you will protest. You’ll say that nothing is more important than family and that sports bring your family together. Not buying it. All kinds of crummy things bring families together. Ever heard of the Sopranos? The Gambinos? The Godfather? Shoot, boating on Sundays is a great way to bring the family together!
Others will say that we can’t spend our WHOLE lives doing family history and some diversion is not only tolerable but healthy! (This will typically come from people who aren’t familiar with actually doing family history.) I agree that some diversion is healthy. Among the myriad ways my father has redeemed himself from hooking me on sports is that he took a teenage boy to the opera—and not just once. No kidding. Some of my favorite memories. I realized, while reading this great talk the other day, that I have not yet brought my son—or my daughters—to the opera. So we’re going. (Get ready, kids.) Hopefully we can arrange to go during a so-called important ballgame. (My kids have never seen the Grand Canyon, either—and we live in Utah!)
Still others may say that participating in the drama of human achievement is an admirable form of refinement in itself. Well, I don’t know. Seems there’s a lot more admirable human drama and achievement going on professions all around us which don’t get nearly the attention they ought to get. Perhaps we should be cheering on nurses or mental health workers or school teachers.
There’s a great scene at the end of George C. Scott’s version of A Christmas Carol, which I watch every Christmas season religiously. In it, Scrooge has “come to himself” (see Luke 15:17) and begun mending his ways. When he returns to his nephew and his wife to repent for his lack of kindness and affection over the years, he says, very sincerely “God forgive me for the time I’ve wasted”—a line which reaches the center of my heart every time I hear it. (You can see that here—just go to the nine-minute mark and watch for a minute or two.)
“Time flies on wings of lightning; We cannot call it back,” says the song. We have such little time. Would that I might use mine better!