Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why I Choose Sports

In journalism school, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Ever. In any sense of the word.

This isn't to say I didn't like many aspects of my experience there. At the risk of exposing vast dorkiness, I will openly say my favorite parts of the whole thing were the lectures and debates we had in classes regarding ethics, newsworthiness, and journalism's place in democracy. I always thought the faculty was great, and many of them I will admire for a long while to come. It was the vast majority of the students I encountered there that I found completely arrogant and insufferable.

Saying this doesn't worry me, because 1) nobody will read this anyway, and 2) my J-school friends should know who they are, and I'm not worried about alienating them. If I like you, you're aware of it. If not, you're aware of that too. One of the most ferociously aggravating things I experienced there was the perception many people there had of sports, and the people who cover them.

Oh, sports are cute. They're not important. They're what you do if you aren't chiseled and intelligent enough to cover hard news. Sports fans are empty-minded, moronic and slow-witted. Those interested in working in sports media for a living are an extrapolation from those who consume them, meaning they're equally incompetent and immature.

Well, at least that's what it seemed like they were saying. This forced me to feel the need to constantly defend sports, mostly to no avail, amid a sea of silver-spoon-fed, utterly disconnected individuals unlike any I had ever met in my life. Clearly, I had come from a different past than these people. My favorite analogy describing the experience was this - they grew up reading the New Yorker, I grew up reading the Houston Chronicle's sports section. And they knew it.

The truth is, I CHOSE to work in sports for a variety of reasons. I was never forced or obligated to. I don't idolize athletes or coaches. I'm not transfixed by the primal desires of money, fame and glory that often come in sports. My tiny brain can handle more than a baseball box score - and for the record, partisan politics are much simpler to decipher than a zone blitz. There are a myriad of other reasons I would rather talk about the stronger points of running a Tampa 2 defense than to a politician putting the spin cycle on the day's minutiae.

The most significant and pleasing difference between sports and the rest of the world is FINALITY. There is a concrete element in sports - whether it be statistical or at the conclusion of a season - that does not exist in other facets of news coverage. For example, in politics, any facts or figures can be spun to adhere to a certain perspective. Regardless of what the numbers are, they are all relative, and can be presented in a manner that supports a certain viewpoint.

To a smaller extent, this exists in sports - but the bottom line is always WINNING and LOSING, a definite, polarizing outcome in competition that separates success from failure. There is no line of winning and losing in art, culture, politics, or even war (particularly the one we're in now) - just events that blur together in an endless calendar of cause and effect. Merits of a war are debated for decades; elections and political tactics and discussions thereof inevitably reach an unwavering standstill of partisanship. Sports give us the definite, the conclusive - finality.

This finality is so much more appealing to me than going to city hall and being lied to everyday. The conclusiveness of a season is the closing of a book - one that will always have another volume added that next spring, fall or winter. The characters and human interest stories generated from athletics represent all facets of society, and engender some of the most inspiring writing and journalism in America today. Sports give you definitive context, endless story lines, human drama, captivating rivalries, and the excitement that can be utterly void from many other forms of journalism.

And that's why I choose sports.

For the record, I'm proud to have graduated from the Mizzou J-School. And when I go back, I'll visit with my professors. I'll also go to a football game and grab a beer at Harpo's. But you people I never liked are better than that, so I won't have to worry about seeing you there.