I know we always haven’t been the best of buds. I mean, look at how slow of a runner I used to be. How slow of a runner I am, I’ll admit. I go to the gym, but I guess that’s not really your exact path. Remember when I used to play for THE American Youth Soccer Organization? AYSO on the weekends was very exciting; I was never a great midfielder (too much running will become a theme in this letter), but I was able to hook some shots in from left forward by virtue of my southpaw ways. There was skiing, too. Never competitively, so I’m not sure if you’ll take that as a sport, but I was definitely participating in some exciting leisurely athletics. And tennis! Tennis, my love, the baby I’ve been nurturing since I was a wee six-year-old. My affair with tennis is a lengthy, tumultuous one, from the lessons with snooty girls all the way to my star appearances as second doubles on my high school’s men’s team (read more about my experience as a Woman in Sports™ in “Aesthetics vs. Athletics”). While my passion for tennis has grown over the years, I’m guilty of brief moments with other racket sports. I’ll never be fantastic at squash or racquetball, but boy, are they fun.
Sports, I didn’t think I’d be writing about you—or writing to you—during my liberal arts college career. In high school, I avoided laying pen to paper in your name. I’m sorry, I know, how could I have known I’d been such a fool? Writing about you has only fostered my love for you. My articles started out as basic fact recaps. Maybe a few quotes. Yet through my experience writing about you, I’ve been able to grow from a timid, lukewarm sports liker to a full-fledged, die-hard sports aficionado.
At a place like Wesleyan, I understand you’re under attack quite often. Your name is uttered in hisses and boos on the Quiet Side, or actively avoided as students walk (for they swear against running) by the football field. People call you ugly names, blaming you for the politics of the players and team members. On the other side of Usdan and the student body, however, you’re glorified. It’s a brand. An identity, even.
My love for sports, I hope, falls somewhere in the middle. I’ve never been a numbers person. I can’t rattle off team or player stats like they’re a grocery list. I don’t know all the coaches, or teams, or playoff histories. Frankly, I don’t know a lot. I drown in conversations with the sports bros, unable to keep up with player names and trades and factoids straight off ESPN blogs.
How, then, you ask, can I love something I don’t know everything about? Sports, I love you for who you are, not necessarily for the franchises you’ve created.
I loved playing soccer when I was growing up. I wasn’t even that amazing at it (re: first paragraph of this letter). But soccer made my weekends just that much more exciting. It was a way to hang out with friends I didn’t get to see at school, or bond with them in a place that wasn’t the classroom or the cafeteria. To all my theater or a cappella friends I’ll force to read this letter: sports build community in the same way the arts does. They allow us to work toward a common goal through teamwork, communication, dedication, and perseverance. In the same way we work together to put up a show or make a great concert, a sports team allows individuals to work together to achieve what matters to us. Whether that be a real win, or simply an improvement to the game, it can still be called “a victory.”
It’s cheesy, I know. But don’t think I’m letting you off the hook, sports. There’s violence in some of your ways, and players that continue that violence off the field or court or track. There’s aggression, entitlement, exclusion, and egotism.
But when I think of sports, I focus on the joy of those early sports days. It’s nice to be a part of a team. Even beyond that, sports are about bettering yourself. It’s exciting to learn new athletic skills, challenge your body and get active through a competitive game.
And when you’re not on the field, you can cheer on your team or player with the dedication of a preschooler trying to draw an ice cream cone. High-five a stranger when they score a goal or make a big shot. Weep on one another’s shoulders when they lose.
There’s a community about you, sports, that isn’t always perfect. It probably won’t ever be. But that doesn’t mean I won’t always love you—whether I keep it to myself or scream it to the world through never-read Argus articles. You make people come together and challenge themselves to be better. Thank you.
Zoë Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @_zoekaplan