Saturday, March 29, 2014

Love and Basketball

The title of this blog may be slightly misleading since it's not about love and might have very little to do with basketball, but it's what came to mind when an inkling of an idea came to me for this post, so I'm using it whether it applies or not. Usually, I think a lot about my blog posts before starting to write them, but this morning I'm winging it, so please bare with me as I ramble about somewhat random thoughts.

Last night I was watching Michigan State play the University of Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament referred to as March Madness. I'm not a basketball fan. The only basketball game I ever went to was in junior high, and that had more to do with having a crush on one of the players than any affinity for the game. But, just as it's hard to live in Boston without becoming a Red Sox fan, it's hard to live in Tucson and not root for the University of Arizona basketball team.

So, after watching the U of A squeak out a win the night before, and with nothing better on television than more basketball, when I saw Michigan State was also in the Sweet Sixteen, I kind of had to watch the game. I'm an alumna of MSU and, oddly enough, one of the reasons I decided to go there was because they had a Big 10 football team. They'd been in the Rose Bowl the year before, and that symbolized all that was different about MSU and my high school career. In high school, I was a nerd. I was in advanced placement classes, took lots of science and math, and hung out with the other geeks. After finding out that I couldn't go to the college of my dreams and become a writer, I wanted to change course, to break free of the expectations of the persona I had in my home town, and do something totally different. The fact that Michigan State offered me a scholarship didn't hurt.

So there I was, looking at the television screen off and on as I poked around on my iPad, when one of the announcers said the word "Charlottesville" and caught my attention. I'd just been to Charlottesville to help my mother move into a new apartment and give my sister a bit of a break, but I didn't put together that MSU was playing the University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, until I heard the announcer say the name. And then I realized that I knew people in Charlottesville, my mother and sister and nephew and his wife, who were probably watching the same game and rooting for the other side. It was an odd feeling of disconnected connection.

Neither my sister nor I are fans of basketball, especially not college basketball, but there we were in living rooms 2,000 miles apart, cheering when "our" team scored, groaning when they missed, yelling at bad calls against them. I found myself wondering who I'd root for if it came down to MSU versus the U of A. And then I found myself wondering why did it matter?

Why is it that we become so passionate about sports? Certainly there are more important things to invest our emotions in: the victims of the landslide in Washington, the alarming rise in autism rates, what Putin's planning to do next. But those topics we meet with clucking tongues and shaking heads, not yells and groans. Our pulse doesn't throb like it does when the clock is ticking down or the Red Sox are trailing by a run and they're down to their final out.

I think it's because a sports competition can be seen in simplistic terms of black and white, even good and evil. While we can argue the causes of autism, whether it be vaccinations or parenting or food allergies or environmental causes, no one really knows. With politics, there is always some right and some wrong on both sides of an issue. In our politically correct age, we're hesitant to label any one group as good or evil.

With sports, there is no ambiguity. The Red Sox are good. The Yankees are evil. Unless you're a Yankee fan, in which case you reverse the judgment. You can wholeheartedly root for the Spartans and not worry about the feelings of the Cavalier fans when they lose. And you can do it with a whole bunch of people who feel the same way as you do, as evidenced by the masses who clogged the streets around the U of A after the Wildcats won Thursday night. Sports bring people together.

And, after the game is over, after everything is decided, fans on opposite sides can tease one another over who won and who lost. There are no hard feelings. You can laugh together. Heck, I even know a Yankee fan I like.

So, while I grieve with the families of those lost on Flight 370, I'm not ashamed that I'm looking forward to March 31st, have checked that my dentist appointment doesn't conflict with opening day, and will be back cheering the Red Sox on for another year.
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