Sometimes it seems like athletes and writers were meant to be enemies. There are positive and negative stereotypes attached to both kinds of people and they all seem to work toward defining athletes and writers—maybe I should just say “creative types”—as opposites. We’re all about the reading and they’re all about the running and if we believe the clichés, there is no middle at which we can meet.
Of course, some of the clichés are true and some are not. Some writers might be even more arrogant than some athletes and some athletes may actually be better at writing than some people who call themselves writers. And of course, you’ll find different kinds of people at different levels of quality; professional athletes in Europe are different than high school players in America and Chuck Palahniuk (← spelled that right on the first try. Congratulate me.) is different than E.L. James. There isn’t time or space to talk about all these variations, so I won’t discuss my feelings about some college athletes or the NFL or the NBA (I abhor them), but rather focus on the positive (I will not make a habit of this).
My immediate family members are all football fans, and when I say football, I mean what EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD calls football and the U.S. insists on calling soccer because NO GOOD REASON. My dad has been a Liverpool F.C. supporter since 1974 and I think his happiest Christmas was when we bought him everything Liverpool since he would never buy it for himself. What my younger brother lacks in years he makes up for in enthusiasm; he could tell you the life story of every single one of the current Liverpool players and I’m fairly certain he cried after Jamie Carragher’s final game this year. My mother and sister are supporters by default and I broke the mold by being a Chelsea fan (talk about family tension).
Before anyone gets the idea that I’m trying to pass myself off as a legitimate enthusiast, let me say my piece. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have a thorough understanding of the game; sure, I understand the rules and I can recognize when something was brilliant or awful, but rarely can I pick out what would’ve been the best pass or the best run. I don’t have the most knowledge of the players; I can keep track of my team and my favorites and the big names, but that’s about it. I obviously don’t have a “real” connection to any particular European team; I live in the middle of nowhere in New York, so there is no home team. As far as playing the game myself, I have zero skills.
But I love it. I love it with the unadulterated, awestruck kind of love that comes not from knowing the most or being the best but from appreciating something on the purest, most instinctual level and feeling it resonate with millions of other souls. It’s the best sport in the world.
Now is probably the part where some people would like to put forth a defense for American football or even baseball and that’s fine, but I’ve been on this rollercoaster a few times before, kids. The argument usually boils down to “You’re American so you should like the NFL you’re stupid and I hate you go live in Europe.” I know my readers are smarter than this and if any of you would like to offer your own sports experiences, I will read and consider them thoughtfully. I just won’t be convinced.
Because what sport has what football has? What other sport has such a deep root in so many cultures and peoples around the world? What sport better combines strength with grace, dazzling, delicate touches of skill with intense physicality? What other sport has such a long, rich, and diverse history?
Yes, football has its sordid moments. There are cocky players and crooked presidents. There’s diving and awful dirty tackles and sometimes the refs are just the worst things ever, but these moments only add to the mystique. How could a writer not love football? Where else in real life will you find such a cast of heroes and villains, masters and underdogs, battle-scarred legends and raw, creative newcomers? Only in football have I watched a complete stranger’s excruciating fall from grace play out right before my eyes. Only in football have I seen a tall, dark, achingly handsome hunk of Portuguese slamma-jamma sex appeal considered second-best to a scampering little Argentinean with a funny haircut and questionable fashion sense. Only in football have I seen the real agony and heartbreak of defeat in the unabashed tears of grown men. Only in football have I seen absurd, arrogant brilliance juxtaposed with the quiet, steady strength of selflessness.
The irony of all this is that I’m too scared to write about it. Other than this clumsy mess of a post, I’m too intimidated by football to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
“I don’t really see the point,” I say to myself. “What can I possibly say with words? How can I possibly do more justice to the sport than those crystal-clear, extra-super-mega-high definition slo-mo shots that capture every rippling muscle and bulging tendon and bead of sweat clinging to eyelashes? What can I say that can compare to being there in that stadium and feeling 50,000 people surge up in delight or rock back in horror?”
I suppose at this point I could pretend I know the answer and come up with some bullshit that sounds, I dunno, wise. I won’t, though. Part of me thinks I need to get it out of my system, that I need to research and write and work and craft until I come up with something I would be proud to hand somebody. “That’s what football’s all about,” I could say. But part of me thinks I need to do the exact opposite, to let it go and stay undefined in my own head rather than confined by the shape of the letters and the sound of the words.
What about you? Is there something you’d like to write about but haven’t, either out of fear or respect? Is there a sport or an art or anything else that’s captured your imagination? Is there a genre you’ve wanted to tackle but is so far outside your knowledge base that the sheer amount of research you’d have to do is overwhelming? I’d love to hear about it.