The creeping sensation that is my coming sports addiction.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, October 18, 2010 11:39 PM

I have never been a sports hater. I played basketball and softball for most of my middle school, junior high, and high school days, so I have a fondness that comes from my actual understanding of the games if nothing else. While I found the machismo on display in the NFL and NBA off-putting, and that the complete dismissal of the WNBA as a legitimate professional league depressing, I have always had a soft spot for baseball (its counterpart was my favorite to play), though I hardly ever watched it. The only time a sport would come across my radar would be in the case of some huge event (e.g. Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the early 1990s, the home run race between MacGwire and Sosa, etc.).

But that was before I went to an SEC school, where sports are religion. Now that I am at one, it's hard to get away from it. My grad school classmates are obsessed with sports. Every gathering turns into a recounting of recent sports events that, being on the fringes, I could only eavesdrop in on and randomly impress with (or show an embarrassing lack of) my knowledge. It actually became a sore point, considering that my limited sports knowledge made me have to sit out of at least half of the conversation at every social gathering.

But it really wasn't by lack of choice that I began to take an interest. Even with my obvious social disadvantage, I didn't set out to do research like some anthropologist trying to understand a foreign culture. I just started paying attention. The 2009 World Series, when the Phillies and the Yankees faced off, was the real turning point. My roommate wanted to watch it and I was unopposed. Neither of us had a vested interest in the outcome (besides the fact that, as everyone in my program proclaimed, "no one who has a soul wants the Yankees to win"), but the series was really entertaining and dramatic, and that sucked us both in. By the end of it, we were heartbroken when the Phillies lost, even though I hadn't spared one second to think about them before the series began.

On a lark during the summer, I decided to not leave an SEC school without having gone to an SEC football game and bought season tickets. I felt absolutely crazy doing it, but I knew spending the money would ensure that I go the extra distance to go to tailgating and games. Three games and a team hat later, I am riding the highs and lows of being at a school obsessed with its worst sports team (at least this year).

And because I watched the 2009 World Series, I actually care about the Phillies. I recognize their names and faces, know some of their stats and, if they are pitchers, their best pitches. And because of the normal ebb and flow of professional sports, I now follow the Rangers, who were traded (in a roundabout way) Cliff Lee (pictured above), who I first saw pitch for the Phillies in the Series and is a native of Benton, a town only forty minutes away from my Arkansas home.

I know people hate sports for different reasons (usually having something to do with them being boring, rich, overwhelmingly male, or all of the above), but, as skeptical as I used to be, I opened myself to the drama and excitement of sports and was affected in ways that I could not have predicted even a year ago. While I haven't brought myself to buy a Cliff Lee or Chase Utley jersey, that doesn't mean that a very stubborn, very Grinch-esque part of my heart hasn't been touched... or that I won't splurge on those jerseys in the future.

Happy Monday!

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