A Sports Fan’s Lament

[Note: Today I share a short essay by one of my favorite writers, Bob Katz. He agreed to let me share it here publicly for the first time. Bob got me thinking. He inspired me to share a personal story of my own in the Postscript. Enjoy!]

My novel Third and Long is the story of a sports-obsessed, economically-distressed factory town that turns, out of desperation and possibly delusion, to a sports figure for salvation.

If that description implies an ambivalent feeling toward sports and, most particularly, sports fandom, all I can say is that I come by the ambivalence honestly.

Bob Katz author and his son

When my two sons were young I wrote an essay for Newsweek titled “My Farewell to Fandom.” The gist of the piece was that I, the loving son of a sports-fan dad, had growing doubts about the much-romanticized tradition of generations staying connected to each other through a shared love for watching and discussing sporting events.  My misgiving had to do with how to best spend one’s time. Being a sports fan can eat up a hell of a lot of hours over a lifetime – who’s counting? hopefully nobody – and as a father, I wondered if there might be more constructive, more edifying, even more satisfying things for my children to do in the spare parts of their life as they matured. I meant it at the time. I really did.

My Sons, the Sports Fans

Now my sons are grown and live far away. This past NBA season, as their favorite team, the Boston Celtics, improbably made its way through the preliminary playoff rounds and into the Finals, I found myself enthusiastically texting with them during the games. Nothing profound. Or insightful. Or significant. Simply the kind of easy blurted banter that we would be engaged in if were all huddled together in the living room with the TV on and a bowl of popcorn between us on the sofa. It was a delight to communicate in this breezy off-hand way, quipping and complaining. A dumb shot that Marcus took. A great drive by Jaylon. And what the hell – that shoulda been called a foul!

Still, a part of me harkened back to earlier misgivings. There was no getting around the fact that, for all this ostensible connectedness, it was a tacit endorsement of exactly the kind of spectator time-suck that I was on record as criticizing.

Alas, the ambivalence {*re watching sports, as distinct from playing} will be with me forever.

I love watching sports. And I love bantering about them. But hey, let’s keep that a secret between us.

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[Postscript by Charles Levin]

Bob’s essay got me thinking about the influence of sports and sports fandom on people’s lives including mine. I have a friend whose mother—her name was June– was terminally ill from cancer in October of 1998. Besides being a sweet, caring person, she was a “die-hard” New York Yankees fan. The Yankees were battling it out in the playoffs. They beat the Texas Rangers to win the American League East on October 2nd and it looked like they could go all the way.

June was determined to hold on and stay alive to root her Yankees on to the championship. She followed every game from her hospital-style bed now firmly planted in the living room. She watched the World Series games from the beginning to the end as the Yankees prevailed over the San Diego Padres with four straight wins on October 21st. The Yankees literally kept her alive, or I should say, the Yankees gave her a reason to live. On October 25th, two days after the Yankees paraded down lower Manhattan to a hail of confetti and adoring fans, June died, happy.

Sports might be of no interest for some or life-saving for others, but I believe a passion for something, anything, can keep us alive through the toughest times.

For me as a storyteller, baseball is rich with amazing tales and great literature. Lou Gehrig’s famous speech, Ted Williams’ last homerun, the Bambino pointing to the outfield, David Wells’ perfect game, the writing of Roger Angel.

And there’s the continuity of it all. From a hundred years ago until the end of time, the Yankees and the Red Sox will battle it out to the boos and cheers of die-hard fans. They were here before us, and they will be here after us.

And yes, as Bob infers, you’re not going to save the world being a sports fan, but you just might save yourself, like June—may she rest in peace.

[If you have a family sports story to share, please post it in the comments section below.]

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To read more of Bob’s wonderful writing, check out Third and Long and the recently republished, remarkable true story, Elaine’s Circle (Munn Avenue Press)

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Read for FREE some of Charles Levin’s short stories:

Nora Delivers the Package
The Permission Slip
10 Life Lessons I Learned from Playing Poker
Missing the Ghost in the Palace Theater
Florence Remembering
Loverly
Moon Landing Memories
Zombie Phone
Word Drunk

P.S. My original fast-paced thriller NOT SO DEAD and the Sam Sunborn Series are also available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com
If you like short reads you can really finish, grab a copy of my short story collections: The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories

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