Friday, February 6, 2015


The Super Bowl just came and went, and with it the usual round of "sportsball" jokes. I make them, too, though in my case it's genuinely ironic because not only have I grown to find the game interesting, I more or less know the rules to football, baseball, and basketball.

I grew up in a sports household. My father played team sports way back when, was at least pretty good at them, and remains convinced of their value, and my brothers are preternaturally gifted at them (it never seemed to matter which one they tried). I don't think it's cynical to say that if you're good at sports, you'll probably find sports teams to be welcoming and rewarding places to be.

I was not good at sports.

Outvoted as I was, sports tended to rule the television. As long as I shared the house with the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, or whoever happened to be on, I wanted to at least understand what I was seeing. So maybe Dad and I didn't have the same ideas about sports, but we did (and still do) very well together talking about how the world works, and I learned about free throws and off-sides and safeties and bunts.

(As I'm talking here about how I didn't fit in growing up, I want to give a shout out to Mom, who not only doesn't particularly care about sports as far as I know, but spent decades as the only female in a house full of males. There's a lot I don't know about how that was for her--only that she has been even happier than I would expect to have our wives join the family. Maybe she should start a blog.)

My two older nieces are now teenagers, and of course they're good at sports. So close! I've got a third niece, so maybe she'll be awkward. Probably not, though, since her father is the brother who, in addition to being preternaturally athletic, was also graceful enough to do some dancing.

I was not good at sports. In between having to suffer through sports, I read books and learned big words and things that interested me and coasted through school until it required hard work, at which point I underachieved because there didn't seem to be any point to working hard at things I didn't like. (I know, right? That's a different blog post.)

(Of course, now my son underachieves, and I worry about him like my parents worried about me. But he's underachieving years before I did, so my worrying is totally different. File under "The Great Wheel Turns.")

Funny enough, some years ago I was up in Gold Country for Thanksgiving and started throwing a football around with the teenagers, and I was surprised to discover I was good at it. I could feel the weight of the football in my arm and the roughness of it in my hand, and it gave just the right resistance for me to throw it in beautiful spinning arcs to where I wanted it to go.

This has its limits: I tore a muscle or something--undiagnosed, because why bother, as long as it gets better?--that took a year to fully heal. I still suck at basketball. But after a mere decade of martial arts, I developed a fraction of the sports ability my brothers were born with.

Not to undervalue the martial arts thing. As my niece discovered through ten minutes of trying to torment me in Cape Cod Bay, I'm really good at making people fall down when they're not expecting to.