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.

A fan.

(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:


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.


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).


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.


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.


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

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At 7/01/2009 2:16 PM, Blogger Jamøn Serrano said...

MOZ might do the trick if this love advice fails.

At 7/01/2009 3:22 PM, Blogger Nate White said...

So I swear I saw Taurean Green listed as one of the dancers in that ballet review--did I miss something?

At 7/01/2009 4:17 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I remember my last girlfriend from a few years ago... We had been dating just a few months and the beginning NBA season was coming up fast.

I had to act quickly or suffer the dire mid-season consequences. I printed out the Jazz schedule for the season and approached her. I said, "You know, I love going out on double dates and doing things with your friends. I don't mind dinner parties and have a great time hanging out with your family. Just don't schedule anything on these dates. Or if you do, please make it three hours after the starting time." I then handed her the schedule.

Luckily, she was good with it...

At 7/01/2009 4:48 PM, Blogger Joey said...

I once took a girl to a Duke-Michigan basketball game. It was a great, down-to-the wire affair. She was bored out of her mind, and she dumped me about a month later. I blame Jamal Crawford.

At 7/01/2009 6:33 PM, Blogger Tree Frog said...

You sway significant others the way you sway anybody else: you tell them a story.

Doesn't necessarily have to be a straight narrative, but it has to be some kind of plot he/she can follow and it HAS to be interesting.

Three minutes of telling her the story of why exactly I liked watching Jerry Sloan jerk around Kirilenko not only got me company for watching the games, but it got me courtside tix to a great college game and some great fun in the sack.

At 7/01/2009 6:49 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

On an unrelated note, is the main picture a Robert Crumb piece?

At 7/01/2009 8:02 PM, Blogger Jim Ruland said...

RC: It's a work by the American painter Paul Cadmus currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Tree Frog: You're right of course. That's how we get suckered into the Olympics every four years!

At 7/01/2009 9:37 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

@jruland: Thank you very much for that bit of information. I'm going to see if I can hit LACMA this long weekend just for that piece...

I do appreciate it.

At 7/01/2009 10:08 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

On the same day I get this fantastic advice on how to ween my girl onto the Grizzlies, they trade for Zach Randolph.

I would say fuck me running, but fuck me standing around idly in the high post seems more fitting.

At 7/01/2009 10:17 PM, Blogger Zach Smart said...

HAHAH great shit man...I figure its better just not to have your SO with you at all at sporting events. It's aggravating as hell being peppered with a barrage of questions and having to explain every little nook and cranny of the game to them and it ends up taking some of the fireworks out of the event....


At 7/02/2009 12:38 AM, Blogger Rebecca said...

Or you can skip most of the risky steps by finding your SO at the event in question. You already know they follow the game, and that you root for the same team, so all you have to do is iron out those pesky personality issues, or those interests outside of sports I keep hearing rumors about.

This may be easier for women than for men, based on supply and demand.

At 7/02/2009 4:27 AM, Blogger Anthony Wilson said...

Hey Shoals, follow me on twitter:


At 7/02/2009 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is all about the story.

Last year I watched a few games of the Stanley Cup final with my wife, who isn't at all a sports person. Thanks to a lot of explaining, she got into it and everything, but I think for her the best part was the very end, when Detroit won and CBC played this pre-recorded segment where all of the Detroit players said their name, their hometown, and their favourite player.

Obviously she didn't really know who the players were, or who they were talking about, but somehow just the idea that these men who make millions of dollars playing hockey could have role models was endearing enough for her?

For Baseball you just have to keep talking. You've got to explain everything. It's a bit FreeDarko I guess, you break them into player types: grizzled veteran, unmerciful machine-man, hot prospect, oblivious gazelle...

At 7/02/2009 12:54 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

Gene and Dean Ween think you may have coined something, turtleface.

wv: vicreptu = esperanto for Toronto's mascot

At 7/02/2009 11:03 PM, Blogger David A. Fonseca said...

Maybe this is a little too precious, but I feel like even though I love basketball, I hate sports. I mean, I wouldn't want to build a relationship around rooting for the home team with girl, nor would I want to spend a lot of time with someone who internalized Jeff Green's performance in the way I did. I would prefer somebody who understood that I was weird about basketball, because they were weird about their own cool shit. It would be great if they could get into it, sort of, but I'd rather they just be able to empathize.

I don't know. I break up with a lot of girlfriends after basketball season ends, weirdly. I think the draft gets me on a renewal tip. I've done it like three relationships in a row.

At 7/03/2009 1:28 AM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

Don't underestimate the charm of Charles, Kenny, and EJ. Even when dreadfully wrong, they tell the story of the players and teams, explain some basic concepts, introduce some current arguments in the league, and do it all in an entertaining and accessible manner.

At 7/04/2009 11:37 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

Next time you should have a woman do a point/counterpoint! I run a Hornets blog, but 2 years ago I could not be bothered with basketball whatsoever. My boyfriend "converted" me, but not with any kind of tactics. Really, guys, for me, immersion worked. We had season tickets, and I complained about going. To be fair, season tickets are kind of life-consuming. Sometimes we have games m/w/f. I sat in my seat not caring... or not thinking I cared. Until I went out of town for two weeks at Christmas. It was too weird not to know what CP & co. were up to, so I found myself firing up ESPN radio on the laptop. And the rest is history.

Sometimes it is OK to just put basketball in front of her and let the game speak for itself. For me it did.

Finate! says the word verification, and thus I am done.

At 7/06/2009 5:51 PM, Blogger m. Alana said...

There is nothing more disappointing for a girl that the old spy-comedy scenario - you mention something about basketball, he responds with a relevant quip, you begin excitedly talking about your favorite players and the latest trades and possible team fortunes...and he sheepishly admits he doesn't really watch the NBA. Gets me every time. Sigh. I hardly even know anyone that does.

I found basketball on my own, for the same reason I gather many at FD do - characters, narratives, the beauty of the game. However, the best boyfriend I ever had was a huge hoops fan. We'd consult each other about our fantasy teams before making any moves...ah, memories.

At 7/12/2009 1:53 AM, Blogger The Exalted said...

another tip is exercising fortuitous timing: i picked the 2008-2009 season to introduce my gf to the underdog nba finalist magic. now she loves gortat (and ernie, kenny and charles) for life.


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