In defence of “sportsball”, check your hypocrisy

Jan 6, 2014

Start the new year with a rant? Yes I fucking will. This is something that’s been bothering me for quite a while so I thought I’d finally write about it as it flared up again over the Xmas period. I’ve noticed a distinct tendency among my geeky friends and acquaintances on social media to gleefully denounce any sporting event with the kind of disdain usually reserved for the truly stupid. And I find this disturbing on many levels.

Let it first be said that I’m a geek and a sports fan and a sportsman. There are many of us out there. I don’t like all sports, of course. I think cricket, for example, is very boring. Anything that takes several days to get a result needs a serious overhaul in my opinion. And yeah, I know, that’s what the 20-20 and stuff is all about. I just don’t get cricket, that’s all. Or golf. As someone very famous once said, playing golf is a sure way to spoil a nice walk. But I don’t mind that other people love those sports. I love lots of other sports. Also, I’m a personal trainer and make a career as a martial arts instructor so in some ways I suppose that drops me firmly in the “jock” category. Because after all, don’t we all like to categorise people so we can compare ourselves and feel superior? But I’m a geek and a nerd too. I’m a spec fic author; I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons and computer games (and still do); I love Doctor Who and Star Wars and Star Trek and Legend and Labyrinth and all that stuff. I go to SF conventions as much as a fan as I do as a writer. I also grew up playing rugby and training in the martial arts. I’m certainly more of a geek than a jock in my mind, but my career is writing and teaching martial arts, so they’re pretty equal in reality, I suppose. And I’m cool with that.

Then I see my social media feeds going mad with disdain whenever the rugby world cup is on, or a tennis grand slam. All my geeky compatriots saying things like, “Oh, there must be a sportsball event on. What a fucking waste of time” or “Gah, my feed is full of tennis, what a bunch of losers”. And it makes me sad. The whole coining of the phrase “sportsball” is a disdainful reduction of all sports into one homogenous and irrelevant nonentity, and then the fans are ridiculed as being neanderthal and dumb.

Sure, sport does often attract the kind of idiot, drunk, offensive loudmouth that so often seems synonymous with the game. But you see a lot of them because they make great news footage, and their idiot antics make good news stories. But it also attracts far more people like me – people who are pretty normal and just enjoy sport. We don’t make the news, of course, because the news is about spectacle and we’re not it. Sport attracts families, it offers fantastic bonding opportunities for parents and their kids – I can’t wait to take my kid to their first rugby game! The loudmouth idiot who makes the news because he’s good fodder for footage is in the huge minority to the thousands of happy, engaged fans who enjoy a day of their favourite sport and then head home again happy and fulfilled. Or aching with the loss along with their team, but that’s ever the risk of support.

But you know why it really bothers me when the SF crowd start mocking and decrying sports fans? Whyt hey lump everything together into “sportsball”? It’s because they should fucking know better. How many times have you been upset when someone laughs at your love of sci-fi? How often have you heard that all SF fans are fat and lazy with body odour and social disabilities? How often have you ground your teeth when someone says, “Star Wars, Star Trek, it’s all the same.”

And yet you’ll say the same things about sports and sports fans.

How often have you cried out in defence of your SF love, “You don’t have to like it, but don’t give me shit for the things I’m into!”

So why give sports fans shit for the things they’re into? Why judge them all by the idiot few?

Sure, there are not nearly as many global or national events to fill up your news feeds in the geek world as there are in the sports world, and I wish there were (although the recent Doctor Who 50th anniversary rivaled the Olympics for social media saturation!) Sure, there are way more sports fans in the world than SF fans. But the crossover is massive. The principles are the same. There are millions of people enjoying the thing they love and the last thing they need is some snooty fucking heckler belittling them for their passion and lumping them in with the tiny minority of the worst of their kind.

I’ve used the term sportsball before. I’ve made a joke about a sudden and massive influx of posts about a sporting event I didn’t know was happening. I’ve joked about sports I don’t like. But I’ve never mocked the people for liking it. And I won’t be using the term sportsball again, because it seems to me it’s being used as a pejorative. It’s an attack and a mockery and I want no part of that. I will never understand people who love standing in the rain watching a person in strange trousers whack a tiny ball through an artificial park. But if that scores your penalty then bully for you and enjoy. I don’t get it, but I’m glad you love it. You’d expect spec fic fans to have a great empathy for that attitude.

Sport keeps people healthy, it’s fantastic social bonding, it teaches kids about team playing or, in the case of martial arts and other solo pursuits, it teaches dedication and constantly challenging yourself to improve. It brings families together and makes communities into parties when a local girl or boy has risen to the top of their field. It makes you feel good. Everyone should engage in some kind of physical pursuit for both their physical and mental health – the plethora of studies outlining the benefits of exercise for everything from diabetes to depression and more is irrefutable. And I know it can be hard to find the thing that truly engages you, and it’s hard when you first start to exercise to get past the effort and certainty you’re going to puke. But there’s something out there for everyone – you just have to look until you find an activity you love that also happens to be a type of exercise. Rock climbing, cycling, footy, martial arts, swimming, fucking Dance Dance Revolution – I guarantee there’s something you’ll get a rush out of and it will become a passion. Or don’t bother, it’s up to you entirely. And if you do find an activity you love, you don’t have to watch the footy finals too, but don’t heap shit on people who do. Whatever you do or don’t choose to engage in, you’d expect other people to respect your choices. Show them the same courtesy.

Of course there are a lot of inherent problems with sport – sexism, misogyny, drunkenness, elitism, violence, massively overpaid professionals with the morals of a stray cat on heat, etc. But you see that in lots of other fields too. Yes, I’d like to see an equal amount of government funding go to the arts as that which goes to sport. Yes, I’d like to see women’s teams paid the same as men’s teams. But I won’t write off such a huge and integral part of the human condition and society based on the behaviour of the idiot few.

So the next time you’re about to ridicule someone for their passion, stop and think about how it feels when someone ridicules you for yours. It’s the same thing. Check your hypocrisy.


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