A Sunday Without Sports

Kirby Lee/US Presswire

Following the Texas Rangers’ World Series loss, Dave Tarrant, of the Dallas Morning News, decided to give up sports for a year. “I’m determined to cut my obsession with sports,” he wrote on his blog. “I want my life back. … Haunted by all the time I’ve spent on the couch watching my team on the tube, I’m turning it off.” His e-mails with Michael Kruse, a staff writer at the St. Petersburg Times and a contributing writer for Grantland, detail his his first true test — his first Sunday without the NFL.

From: Tarrant, David
To: Kruse, Michael
This is my first Sunday in self-imposed exile. I’m taking a year off from watching sports. For about 50 years, I’ve been your average fan, riding the ups and downs of my teams. In my case, it all started in the early 1960s in Pittsburgh. Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic bottom-of-the-9th home run beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series and transformed a city better known for its belching smokestacks and woeful sports teams. The Pirates and Steelers were awful in the 1950s. When I moved to Dallas in my mid-20s, I adopted the colorful weak sisters of the local franchises — the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Mavericks. No Cowboys for me, thank you. I remained a diehard Steelers fan. Over the years, I followed my four teams — Pirates, Steelers, Rangers and Mavericks — through thick and thin. In the late 1980s, when I went to work for a few years in Germany, I checked the box scores every day in Stars and Stripes or the International Herald Tribune.

But at the end of the 2011 World Series, especially after watching the wretched collapse of the Rangers in Game 6, I decided I needed a break. I want to see if I can handle a year without my sports teams. Like a guy with a horrible hangover, who swears off beer for a day or two or three or more. That’s where I’m at right now, trying to see if I can spend a year without sports — one day at a time. This is an especially dangerous one for me. The hated Baltimore Ravens are playing the Steelers in Sunday Night Football. It’s by far the best rivalry in the NFL. The games usually leave both teams bruised and battered. The Ravens slaughtered the Steelers earlier this year, and the men in black and gold will be out for blood. In years past, I’ve watched the game with my friend Seth and a few other guys from Pittsburgh either at Seth’s house or in a sports bar. I faithfully wear my black and gold Rod Woodson jersey — No. 26! Needless to say, Seth and the guys think I’m nuts. I’ll miss their camaraderie.

So … What am I going to do with all this free time, anyway? I’ll keep y’all, or should I say yinses, posted.

From: Kruse, Michael
To: Tarrant, David
I’m so interested in what you’re doing here because I think with this experiment, you’re asking an important question. Do we spend too much time watching sports? Let’s say you sleep eight hours a day. Let’s say a football game lasts something like three and a half hours. That’s basically a full FIFTH of your day. Judging from the NFL’s ratings, most people aren’t watching just one, either, so let’s say they’re watching games even in both slots on Sunday afternoon, and then the Sunday night game, and then the Monday night game. My wife Lauren works for the St. Pete coffee company Kahwa and today she’s manning the Kahwa booth at a local arts festival. This morning, I watched my 4-year-old stepdaughter and her friend who had spent the night, and for the most part they played nice, which let me read my St. Pete Times and my New York Times. The friend’s mother picked up the girls at noon, at which point I got in the car to make a quick reporting trip down to Sarasota, where I am now. This evening, my St. Pete Times colleague Will Hobson is coming over to talk some shop about a story he’s working on, and somewhere in there dinner needs to be made and the dog should be walked. All of which is to say: Where do people find all this time to watch all these games? People are of course free to do what they want, and clearly a lot of people are getting from watching sports a lot of things they like or need or want, but I can’t help but wonder: What’s not getting done?

So: What are you, Dave Tarrant, cold-turkey non-watcher of sports, doing this Sunday afternoon that you weren’t last Sunday afternoon?

From: Tarrant, David
To: Kruse, Michael
What’s not getting done? A lot of the little, seemingly inconsequential, things that add up to a life. A walk with the dogs. A hike with a child. Practicing a jump shot at the elementary school basketball court. Dinner and movie with the wife. Reading. Listening to a music radio station, instead of sports talk. Spending enough time with a daughter that she’ll let you know her favorite song.

From: Tarrant, David
To: Kruse, Michael
Natalie, my 13-year-old, and I are going hiking. We’re going to the Cedar Ridge Preserve, in southwest Dallas County, which bills itself as the closest thing to the Hill Country in aircraft carrier-flat Dallas. My plan is to spend as little time as possible at home, where I’ll be tempted to turn on the television. My wife Sharon suggested I might want to go grocery shopping with her when the Cowboys were playing because the stores are always nearly empty at that time. But the whole point of this is to not just trade teams, so to speak. I don’t want to give up watching sports just so I can spend more time shopping. I don’t like to shop. I don’t even like to say the word “shop.” It makes me feel claustrophobic. When it comes to shopping, I’m definitely more of a hunter than a gatherer. Get in, get what you need and get out. Nope. I don’t think I’ll be spending the day at Kroger or the mall. I’m heading to the great outdoors. Who knows what I’ll see? Natalie: “Hey Dad, before we go hiking, can we stop at Starbucks?” That’s my girl!

From: Kruse, Michael
To: Tarrant, David
So is it fair to say your daughter is a fan of you not being a fan?

From: Tarrant, David
To: Kruse, Michael
Michael,

We spent two hours in the woods, hiking the Cedar Ridge Preserve. It’s run by the Audubon Society and it’s most definitely a gem in the backyard of Dallas. We walked the Cattail Trail, which looped around about three or four miles, twisting and turning through ash and cedar and juniper. At one point, Natalie began talking politics, which was a surprise. I don’t recall her ever having a conversation with her about politics and I can’t even remember how we got on the topic. But she went on for at least 20 minutes, talking about how the politicians took these “drastic” positions and wouldn’t compromise with each other. There was even a sports analogy tossed into the mix: She said that people adopted political parties like sports teams and they hated anybody on the other team. That, she said, was no way to run a country. Wow, what a great conversation — even though she gave my generation a beating. “You guys are really screwing it up for us, Dad!” I e-mailed you a photo of our destination, Cattail Pond. As I was doing that, I looked up to see Natalie walking around the pond. At some point, she took a step and sank into about 8 inches of mud. In the confusion of trying to wipe the mud off her shoe, we left her cell phone on the observation deck overlooking the pond. We got about 1,500 feet up the trail before she realized it. We half-ran, half-walked back toward the pond and came upon a mother and her daughter. “You lose a phone?” the mom said. People are nice on trails. I learned one other thing today. As we were driving back home, Natalie had me listen to a song on her iPod. It was a song by Weezer. She told me it was currently her favorite song. That’s pretty cool, huh?

From: Kruse, Michael
To: Tarrant, David
Are you missing football?

From: Tarrant, David
To: Kruse, Michael
Hi Michael,

As I mentioned earlier, the Steelers are on Sunday Night Football. I don’t really want to be in the house around a TV, and Sharon and I haven’t been on a date in a while. So we’re going out to see a movie. It’s one I’ve been wanting to see for a long time. It’s gotten excellent reviews. I can’t wait to see it.

You’ve probably heard of it: Moneyball.

Best,

Dave

From: Kruse, Michael
To: Tarrant, David
What I’m hearing from you is that you’ve spent an afternoon with your daughter and an evening with your wife. So what are you missing? What if anything is lacking in that Sunday? Here I’m going to quote from a book I’ve pulled off my shelf. It’s called The Meaning of Sports, by Michael Mandelbaum, and I’m paging through my previously highlighted passages.

Here’s one:

    Sports and organized religion share several important features. Both address the needs of the spirit and the psyche rather than those of the flesh. Neither bears directly on what is necessary for physical survival: food and shelter. Both stand outside the working world. And team sports provide three satisfactions of life to twenty-first-century Americans that, before the modern age, only religion offered: a welcome diversion from the routines of daily life; a model of coherence and clarity; and heroic examples to admire and emulate.

Question: What do you get from watching sports? And what are you not getting today?

From: Tarrant, David
To: Kruse, Michael
That’s a great question, Michael. I’ve read that passage twice now. The only thing I can say, and there’s a spoiler alert in here for anyone who hasn’t seen Moneyball, is that I really admire Billy Beane’s decision at the end of the movie. He clearly made it with his daughter in mind. Who knows how things would have turned out in Boston? Would they still have won the World Series two years later with him as GM? That’s the wonderful thing about sports, and baseball in particular: There’s an infinite amount of “what ifs” involved in the game.

On the way home after the movie, we drove past the Colossus of Arlington and it occurred to me that I still didn’t know the score of the Cowboys game. I felt a slight bit of panic — like I’d been given a pop quiz and hadn’t read the book. I looked at the radio and without thinking I punched in the button set for the local ESPN station. I figured they’d be carrying the Steelers game. There was a commercial for a sports show called “The Herd,” and I realized what I was doing and turned off the radio. I’m not ruling out the possibility of checking scores but I liked the fact that I’d made it through the day without needing to sit in front of the tube and watch a game. And I liked the fact that I had some bit of control over my day, that I wasn’t, in fact, just part of “The Herd.”

Best,

Dave

From: Kruse, Michael
To: Tarrant, David
They’re big questions, I think, and maybe they’re best left for tomorrow. But still: What do you get from watching sports? And what did you not get today? What did you miss?

From: Tarrant, David
To: Kruse, Michael
I missed the enjoyment of sitting on the couch and watching the Steelers. I love that team and whenever I get to see them, it helps me reconnect with the city where I grew up. It’s a romantic thing, of course. To paraphrase what some wag somewhere once said: In this age of free agents, I’m really just rooting for jerseys. But I do think it’s more than that. Last year, when the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl, I made a big batch of perogies, which are basically dumplings that are a big deal in Pittsburgh. I’m sure my kids thought I was a little weird, wearing my Rod Woodson jersey and serving them up a platter of perogies. But it helped me reconnect with the city of my youth, with friends I’d grown up with and moved away from and with a kind of gritty authenticity that I’ve always associated with Pittsburgh that can’t be found in these newer cities in the South and Southwest. I don’t know — maybe that’s a lot of horseshit. But that’s a glimpse of what I associate with the Steelers. On the other hand, all that nostalgia and romance is nothing but the downy pod of a dried up old dandelion compared to a walk in the woods with my daughter and a night at the movies with my wife. If you want authenticity, if your want something real, that’s it for damn sure.

Previously by Michael Kruse:
Crash Davis Rides Again
How Does Oregon Football Keep Winning?


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