Taking One For the Team: On Converting Your S.O. Into A Sports Fan
With the draft dead and summer league weeks away, it's time to ponder other matter. Hence, we turn to Jim Ruland for some sports/relationship advice. Jim is the author of Big Lonesome, a collection of short stories, none of which are about Chris Kaman.
Now you’ve done it. You’ve gone against your best instincts and worst intentions. You’ve risked ridicule from your friends and put your free time (to say nothing of your finances) in serious jeopardy. You have fallen irrefutably, irredeemably in love.
They said be careful. They said look before you leap. But did you listen? No. You threw caution to the wind and pitched yourself over the cliff. You’re like someone with an incurable disease: there’s no hope for you.
Now you find yourself at the crossroads, ready to take the next step and reveal yourself for what you truly are.
(You probably thought I was going to say “alternative lifestyle enthusiast” didn’t you? If you did, that means you’re probably a Dallas Cowboys fan, which is more or less the same thing.)
This is a serious dilemma. Potential mates will look past a lot of flaws if the positives outweigh the negatives--lack of education, staggering credit card debt, your asshole friends--but once you’re outed as a sports junkie, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes obvious that you are the asshole friend.
You know those relationship red flags they’re always talking about in a certain type of magazine that usually has Oprah on the cover? It’s not a metaphor. The red flag is your team colors. But there’s no need to surrender. You can win your squeeze over by following these simple steps:
INTRODUCING YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER TO YOUR TEAM
The logical first step is to bring your S.O. to a game, right?
Wrong. First of all, most professional games are long, dull and boring. Being a fan, you do not comprehend this. “Boring? There’s nothing boring about the Lakers/Colts/Red Sox!” To demonstrate how wrong you are, read this review of a performance of “The Nutcracker” by the City Ballet of San Diego. Couldn’t hack it, could you? Now try to imagine being there. For most non-hoops/football/baseball fans, attending a sporting event is like this. Times twenty.
The key to a successful first step in sports fandom immersion is controlling the environment. I don’t recommend watching the game at home for a number of reasons: 1) Old habits die hard. If the game’s tied going into the fourth quarter are you going to remember that she’s even there? 2) You have to clean and/or your parents will embarrass you. 3) You don’t want her to see your LeBron James puppet theater.
But where do you take her? A lot depends on the sport. Here’s a short list ranked from the easiest to most difficult on the conversion scale:
1. Hockey: Really. Everyone loves violence. Most people won’t admit it, but it’s true. Plus, if you’re a hockey fan, chances are you live in a shithole and she’s as starved for quality entertainment as you are. If you’re a transplanted NHL fan, all bets are off. I have a friend in San Diego who is a hardcore hockey nut and on most weekend nights he can be found trolling the Gaslamp Quarter for vacationing Canadians. Sad, very sad.
2. Basketball: It’s fast, it flows, it’s graceful, and it’s acrobatic. It’s also screamingly obvious. Either the ball goes in the bucket or it doesn’t. It’s also exceptionally difficult. We all know people who are convinced they could play pro ball if only their knee hadn’t blown out. Not so with basketball. (Are you 6’9”? Do you have freakishly large hands? Do you have the legs of a gazelle and the heart of an assassin? Then STFU.) The athletes do things on the court that we can only dream about and they do it on the regular and, perhaps most importantly, we can see their facial expressions while they do it. I’m going to suggest it’s poetry in motion or anything like that, but it’s at least the equivalent of a muscular species of doggerel.
3. Football: Let me say this once and get it out the way: football is the most complex game in the history of mankind. What else requires a 53-man roster, a dozen coaches, a few dozen assistants and a small army of equipment people to make the enterprise possible? (Warfare, maybe.) And football is burdened with more Byzantine rules than any one person can be expected to absorb in a single afternoon season. But when an offense or defense executes its game plan it’s astonishing to watch. And if it’s done when the clock is ticking down and everything is on the line, there are few things more dramatic than a come-from-behind victory. Also the fact that the games occur just once a week also works in your favor. It’s a tough sell, but it’s helped along by all the food and fanfare that is considered part of the pageantry.
4. Horse Racing: Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen an actual horse? I’m kind of sort of kidding here but the point that needs to be made is that just about anything is more enjoyable than televised baseball and I say this as a baseball fan. An afternoon spent watching a game of baseball at home is a form of early-onset oldness. You know what goes well with televised baseball? Newspapers and naps. Next thing you know you’ll be drinking prune juice and watching Matlock.
5. Baseball: But only if you’ve had your hip replaced.
THE FIRST SPORTS DATE
I recommend an upscale sports bar. The key is to make it as normal a date as possible with sports as an added bonus. A place that is an official team bar is good because it proves that your preoccupation is shared by others.
A word to the wise: make sure it’s not the place where you normally watch the game as Murphy’s Law dictates that the rival sports fan you almost got into it with or drunken cougar you nearly took home three seasons ago will resurface and put your plans in peril. If you’ve been bounced from all the local watering holes, plan a picnic and listen to the game on the radio. Remember, it’s not like going to the movies where you put all interaction on hold. At the sports bar you have to talk and stuff.
It goes without saying that you will be recording the game and watching it later with the phone turned off and all of your rituals in effect (i.e. burning sage, donning unis, heating up the nacho cheese).
INTRODUCING YOUR S.O. TO YOUR “FRIENDS”
Breaking in a new lover is like breaking in a baseball glove: you have to be rough. You’ve followed my advice and taken the first step and been generous (but not too generous) with the lubricating oil, now it’s time to stick a ball in your lover’s mouth and stuff him or her under the mattress—too far, maybe? The point is you’re going to have to expose your new fling/life partner/mail-order sex slave to a little harsh treatment so when things really get serious they’re battle-tested and ready. I’m talking about introducing them to your friends. Three words: proceed with caution.
There are two kinds of friends: the people we like and the people with whom we watch sports. The two aren’t synonymous. I’m not going to spend the day on a boat fishing with some asshole I can’t stand, but I’ll spend an equivalent amount of time watching the game with him, regardless of how many warrants, divorces and/or DUIs the guy has. Friends come and go but a fan is a fan.
The best scenario for introducing your S.O. to your friends is at a game-watching party held at someone’s house who is extremely successful. This sends the message that successful people are Philadelphia Eagles fans, too. (Just kidding. There’s no such thing as a successful Philadelphia Eagles fan..) There should be a mix of people, male and female, married and single, just like a beer commercial. This may take some effort, some careful planning, possibly even the hiring of actors and bribing of affluent acquaintances. And it must be done in such a way that your S.O. feels like they’re in a beer commercial without actually being aware of it.
TAKING YOUR S.O. TO THE BIG GAME
You’ve taken in some games together, got the “friends” introduction out of the way—now it’s time for the next step: going to a game. Some tips:
1. Don’t cheap out. Get good seats. A fan might be happy to be in the same city as their favorite sports team, but a casual, semi-interested observer needs to be able to actually see the game in order to experience it. Go figure.
2. Be prepared but don’t over-prepare. Going to a game is a colossal pain in the ass. Fans frequently overlook this. Remember the ballet example. Would you tailgate to a ballet? Sit in the parking lot for an hour afterwards because the traffic is grid-locked? Risk being groped in long bathroom lines filled with drunks? (Don’t answer that.) There’s nothing you can do about these things but a little preparation goes a long way. Some things you should never be without during a first date to a game: sunscreen, aspirin, blanket, handy wipes, first aid kit, snacks, full tank of gas, and a shitload of cash.
3. No face paint. For reals. And for god’s sake, don’t forget your medication.
MISCELLANEOUS TIPS FOR SEALING THE DEAL
BE A FRONTRUNNER: Everyone loves a winner. What better way to demonstrate your dominance over the rest of the species than by aligning yourself with newly anointed champions? So go right ahead and dress up in matching Lakers gear. On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t.
BAIT & SWITCH: If you know you can’t control yourself during the NBA playoffs, feign interest in another sport that you don’t really care about as a way to get your S.O. used to the idea that you’re a sports fan, while still providing the attention and consideration that will prove impossible during the Western Conference Finals . This doesn’t make it easier, but it shortens the learning curve.
BE CASUAL: I was at a hardcore New York sports fan’s house the other day and his collection of jerseys, bats, balls, and other memorabilia was the most impressive I’ve ever seen. What made it so cool is that he had the stuff lying around. You could get close to it, pick it up, get intimate with history. He’s clearly obsessed, but because he wasn’t super intense about his stuff he came off like a normal person. It’s like he was saying, This is a big deal to me, but I don’t expect you to feel the same. Don’t try this at home if you have pets. You’re going to look pretty silly with your arm up your dog’s ass after Fido scarfs down that Ricky Henderson batting glove.
THE ULTIMATE, FAIL-SAFE WAY TO CONVERT YOUR S.O. INTO A SPORTS FAN: If none of the steps above work, do what I did: marry someone who went to high school with a player on your favorite sports team