Sunday, June 28, 2020

On Being a Sports Fan, The World Needs Connection

A funny thing happened today. I sat in my living room and yelled at the television. If you were down the hall you would have heard me whistling and clapping. My cell phone was blowing up with text messages from friends who were watching what I was. Excited. Observant. Hopeful. Sound familiar? Maybe you are thinking "I can relate to that...but it's been a while." When this event came to an end, I turned off my TV and took a deep breath and basked in a familiar satisfaction. Ah....to be a sports fan. 
Johnson won the tournament by shooting a 61 on Saturday. Way to go low.

I enjoyed watching Dustin Johnson win the Traveler's Championship (-19), his 21st PGA title. For 13 straight years DJ has earned a trophy on the tour, which is no small accomplishment. He has certainly had his share of personal and professional highs and lows. Today was a great win (and how awesome was that power drive on 18 today?!).

Golf is but one sport that has resumed play in a modified fashion in the era of COVID. Though it's much more exciting to have my reactions amplified by all those in the gallery, I'm grateful the game has moved on from "Best of the Masters" and other tourneys from 30 years prior. Today's match reminded of how much joy sports bring to my life. I don't apologize for this truth and I don't want to. They connect me to others in a delightful, sometimes cursory/other times meaningful and memorable way. If there's one thing we need in our world right now, it's connection.

I am not a soccer (football) fan. I don't apologize for this and yet I often feel I may be missing out because I don't share others' passion for it. That being said, some of the people who I care about the most love the "beautiful game." Therefore, I have found that part of the way I show them how much I care is take an interest in what matters to them. 
My favorite podcast, ESPN Daily had an excellent interview with Roger Bennet (Men in Blazers) about the return of  the world's most popular sports league, the English Premier League. I listened to it because I knew my Dad would be excited about the return of the other football.

As written by ESPN, "Roger and Mina discuss Liverpool's remarkable season thus far in their quest to win their first league championship in 30 years. The two also explore the slew of health and safety protocols that have been put in place for the Premier League to return to action, as well as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that are expected across the matches in England. And in this mad dash to finish the season, who will qualify for Champions League and Europa League? Is Son Hueng-min the greatest Korean soccer player ever or just the greatest soccer player ever? Rog has all the answers." They also discussed the team's manager, now in his fifth season at Liverpool, Mr. Jurgen Klopp.
I was so thoroughly entertained by this podcast that I talked to my dad about the Premier League and about the Liverpool team. The fact that I was surprised that they had a German head coach reflects just how little I know about professional soccer. My dad's enthusiasm for Klopp and the Premier League led me to read a piece about him in the February 2020 issue of Sports Illustrated. Shelter in Place has not only allowed me to catch up on old journals, it has expanded my imagination and interests. And, that personal growth, when channeled for good can only deepen my connections with others and forge new ones in the future. 

The Sports Illustrated article J├╝rgen Klopp's Authentic, Infectious Aura and Ultimate Mission leads me to believe, I am not alone. Grant Wahl writes
Klopp rarely idles his drive to forge human connections. When 750,000 Liverpool fans turned out for the parade celebrating the Champions League triumph last June, Klopp swears he tried to hold eye contact for at least a fraction of a second with each person he saw from his perch atop the team bus.

“How much it meant to the people? I thought I knew, but seeing it is completely different,” he says. “You had 60-, 70-, 80-year-old men and women punching their chests, screaming, ‘I! LOVE! YOU!’ Life is all about having that kind of relationship.”

That worldview is reflected on the field, where the key to Klopp’s high-pressing style is to combine the collective talents, desires and energies of players from a wide range of nations into a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So explains Klopp, legs crossed on a white-leather office couch, speaking between puffs on a vape. He’s dressed a bit like a dad going to his kid’s weekend soccer game: black sweatshirt, windpants, white running shoes, no socks. But what stands out above all else in person are his teeth. They’re majestic, like a human Hoover Dam, and they can express multitudes, whether it’s the pleasure of a radiant smile or the “Let’s go!” urging of a sideline gnash or the cackling cocksureness of the cartoon-villain laugh he emits when his team concedes.
Wahl's piece affirmed why I am a sports fan. To read that the head coach of a great team sought to hold eye contact with fans reminds me that being sports fan is not something to discount. There is a connection between coaches and fans, athletes and followers.  They feel it, we feel it, I feel it. Energy is a powerful force....one that is often difficult to contain. And I hate to say it, but what I find most challenging about wearing a mask is that I miss people's smiles. I too communicate with my teeth....they aren't majestic...they are far from the Hoover Dam but without them I am inhibited in my communication with others. These are challenging times, but there are so many ways to connect with others. Taking an interest in their favorite sport is just one way to do that.

The writer Muriel Spark said, "I became a Catholic because it explained me." I get that....I share her sentiment. Being a Catholic Christian explains me. But, so does being a sports fan. 

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