First, some context. I have been a fan of one of North America's big 4 sports my whole life. It is not a sport that is played much where I live, so basically anyone who is a fan has likely never played it before. So their whole experience of this sport is through the national league, through television. I have always thought this was odd.
- Most people who have never played the sport have no way to effectively assess what is going on. Yet they are often armchair strategists, saying that this player is good or that this coach is bad. What really astounds me is going on a sports forum and seeing how much people have to say about something, when they are essentially clueless.
- Most people who have never played the sport also have opinions on issues that don't really affect them. I'm thinking of the concussion issue. I myself played a risky contact sport in my youth. Not only would I have taken the risk if I knew it back then, I plan on doing it very soon when I take it back up! Again, I am troubled at how much an essentially abstract idea (IE a professor who never played football placing themselves in the shoes of a football player) has had an impact.
- The national/television depiction of a sport has a life of its own. For example, to some people the use of steroids "ruined" baseball. But the thing is, it didn't really ruin baseball - you can just go out and play a game if you really wanted! I guarantee you don't have to get juiced up to play a friendly game of baseball.
- Finally, let me bring up another issue in all this. Take the example of Gary Kasparov and Chess. Let's say that his playing so much Chess exacerbated his mental illness (I have no idea if this is true, but having played some of it I can see how it could happen). Certainly, having watched a lot of E-sports, I have seen how complete immersion in E-sports has a negative effect on a person. Do you think the human body/mind are suited to constant and directed activity of such a narrow type? Personally, I don't.
These are issues I encounter literally every day, and think about every day, as a "fan" of a sport. That has got me to questioning whether I should continue to be in this observation role, or if I should start to engage directly in more stuff. So I put the question to you. You can answer it either as a) I do prefer to play/engage in the activity, or I prefer to watch/observe the activity; or b) I think people SHOULD play/engage in an ideal world, or I think people SHOULD watch/observe in an ideal world.
Just so we're all on the same page, what are these four big sports? I assume you're referring to football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.
The only one I have any enjoyable memories of is hockey (it's part of the social glue that holds Canada together; most of us have at least an opinion about it even if we don't play it or spend our Saturday nights watching Hockey Night in Canada - or several nights when the playoffs are going on). I've never played ice hockey, because I'm an anomaly: A Canadian of my generation who never learned to skate. But I played floor hockey in school, and wasn't too bad at it. The kids I knew during the years when my dad and I lived with his girlfriend and her kids were into street hockey and minor hockey. So it's something I grew up with, as my parents watched games on TV and some of my mother's family were involved with the local hockey team (as referees, and one of my mother's cousins played on that team).
Fast-forward a couple of decades to the years when Wayne Gretzky was playing for the Edmonton Oilers... my dad never missed a game. Both of us would watch the playoffs, especially if it was Edmonton vs. Calgary (Calgary had their own superstar player at the time, Lanny MacDonald). The rivalry between those two cities was intense when it came to hockey, and being geographically in the middle of them also meant being in the middle when it came to who supported which team. In some groups of people, hockey was something that had to be on the list of "don't talk about it" or an argument would break out.
I stopped watching NHL hockey when Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles. Since then I've watched Olympic hockey (more enjoyable due to stricter rules about fighting), both men's and women's teams. Fun fact: When the Canadians are responsible for readying the ice for an Olympic game, they bury a loonie at centre ice, for good luck. It usually works.
But as for sports other than the "big four"? I never watched the Olympics until Calgary hosted in 1988. I got interested because I knew one of the people performing in the opening ceremonies (a dancer I'd worked with in the theatre), and two of the people in our SCA group had scored tickets to the opening ceremonies. It was basically a local
event, as international events go, and both my grandmother and I wanted to watch. I really wasn't familiar with any of the actual athletes, though I'd heard and read so much about it in the months leading up to it.
The Opening Ceremonies blew me away. And so did everything else. That was the year of the Jamaican bobsled team, and Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards (I shocked my dad one night by saying, "He's going to end up on Leno one of these nights" - and was, that same night, prompting my dad to stare at me and ask, "How did YOU know?!"... I really didn't, it was just a lucky guess), and of course the event I was most invested in: singles figure skating and the Battle of the Brians. American Brian Boitano vs. Canadian Brian Orser; equally talented, equally capable of winning gold. Boitano won gold by one tenth of an ordinal in the long program, because Orser had a minor mistake coming out of one of his jumps. It was that
These Games were special for other reasons, of course. For one thing, all the events were in the same time zone as I was; I didn't have to get up at some insane hour of the middle of the night to watch something live. For another thing, I was introduced to sports I'd never heard of, like bobsled, luge, and biathlon (biathlon gets an unfair rap from people who have no idea how athletic and controlled the competitors really have to be to participate at such elite levels).
This was also what got me interested in Beatles music. It sounds odd, but I wasn't into it before watching a Russian ice dance team perform their free dance to a medley of Beatles songs. That's the sort of thing that prompts me to think, "that sounded interesting, I should check out more of that."
There were some odd things about these Games as well; the American network broadcasting the games to the U.S. and some of the non-local organizers were so determined to have the games during those exact weeks in February and dismissed local organizers' warnings about chinook winds (that can turn winter into spring in a matter of hours). Sure enough, they woke up one morning and then wondered WTF happened to the snow - they had to bring in snow machines to make sure some of the skiing events could go ahead as planned.
The oddities weren't confined to the Americans, though. I was watching the CTV news one night (based in Ontario), when the chief anchor, Lloyd Robertson, was talking about how Calgary was famous worldwide for the Stampede, and to give international visitors a taste of rodeo, they'd put on an indoor version of some of the events. Robertson solemnly informed the viewers that these events included staples such as pony chuckwagon races and ladies' barrel wrestling.
People east of the Ontario/Manitoba border didn't bat an eye. They had no idea that Robertson had made a mistake, never mind what it was. As for me... I literally fell off the couch, laughing hysterically. There was an editorial in the paper the next day with basically the same reaction.
Other sports... in school I wasn't bad at volleyball and badminton (badminton was what I was best at), and in elementary school there was a weird hybrid we played called pingminton. It's a combination of a volleyball net at volleyball height, badminton birdies, and ping-pong paddles. My team made the playoffs for that (if memory serves, I think we won... this was back in 1974).
I also watched the Summer Olympics, though not as much. Track and field events don't interest me. I like the events where we can actually see some of the host country, like cycling and triathlon. That said, I'd watch gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and diving. It seems I like the artistic stuff.
I don't play sports anymore, and haven't watched the Olympics in 15 years. Politics, corruption, and a general unfamiliarity with the current top competitors has made it uninteresting. Calgary was seriously in the race to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, but I'm glad the bid was withdrawn. The amount of money wanted merely to put in the final bid, never mind the games themselves, would have taken a huge chunk of money the province couldn't have afforded. Nostalgia for 1988 was high, but reality had set in among most people in the province by that time. There's no way it could have been afforded again, even considering that Calgary was one of the anomalies of the Olympics: they were able to turn a profit, and many of the venues were still in decent shape, over 30 years later.
Couldn't you use that as an argument against any serious pursuit? Isn't a PhD just overdoing academic research? Isn't being a career politician overdoing that too?
Some pursuits that aren't athletic can have physical consequences when you pursue it seriously to the point where it's like a job in terms of number of hours put into it every day. That's how it was for me when I was doing my Western Board of Music exams in organ and theory. I spent a couple of hours a day doing homework and studying for theory, and at least 4 hours/day practicing the pieces I had to play for the practicals. Another couple of hours were spent on the basics like scales, arpeggios, etc. We had an oral test as well, on musical terms, history, and so on. It drove my family nuts during those times, because it was so intense and I could not allow distractions like TV or radio to get in the way of learning all this. Trying to cram everything into your mind and muscle-memory-train your fingers, hands, and feet to do everything exactly correct takes an immense amount of concentration, to the point where breathing is affected.