Repost: Put me in coach, I’m ready to play (is something I never said)

It’s the Olympics! So I edited and reposted my one and only piece about sports. The link is to a TBP sports prompt.


“Artist Emma Allen, who specializes in body art, says [the World Cup trophy] is such an iconic symbol she wanted to see if she could represent it in body paint.” BBC, 2014

I have a pair of absurdly expensive shoes for the long walks I call exercise. I have an old Rugby shirt and a pair of Jack Purcell’s I wear with athletic pants, which I call my “Sporty Spice” outfit. But, like a lot of people, I’m not much into sports. Oh, sure, I get excited for the home team when they make it to the playoffs. Especially if they make it all the way to “the big game.” That’s the only time I become a sports nut glued to the TV.

When it comes to the Olympics, for whatever reason, sports enthralls me. I become totally engrossed with all the competitions. Right now, as I edit this piece I originally posted a couple of years ago during Soccer World Cup, I have the Rio Games on, and will probably switch between all the stations broadcasting the games throughout the weekend.

Like many others, I am desperate to understand, I mean, really understand all these sports and games I otherwise never give a single thought to in the intervening four years. Like, Curling, and that ribbon dancing/gymnastics thing.  What are those two sports about?! I’ve decided rhythmic gymnastics is farming tryouts for Cirque du Soliel aerialists. I mean, what other explanation is there? And Curling? Well, who knows.

But when it comes to attending a sports event, I’ve gone along only when it’s the plan for the day: As a teen, because going to the ski slopes on the school sponsored bus with a bunch of friends was a fun way to spend a Saturday during an otherwise dreary winter. Or, to cheer on friends participating in a benefit marathon. I’ve gone because the ex-beaus were football/soccer/tennis/baseball/basketball/hydroplane race/volleyball/golf nuts. I’ve gone to a sports event because someone had an extra ticket, or because the nieces and nephews are on the team that made it into the AAA Junior League and the big game is on Sunday. But, I’ve never gone to any sports event simply because I wanted to attend a sports event. Ever.

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”
William Arthur Ward

The first time I was (unwittingly) a participant in a sport, I was an actual contender. I was 13 years-old and it was spring, which meant it was track-and-field time. Our P.E. assignment, on a cold and foggy morning, was long-distance running.

Our gym teacher sent us off running up hills, down various streets, around the football field track a few times, and up and down the field’s bleacher stairs. Most kids took off at a good clip, but since I took great exception to everything P.E., I made only the slightest of efforts, jogging along in a out-for-a-leisurely-stroll-around-the-park fashion. It was an act of defiance, meant to register my utter and total disregard for P.E. in general and running in particular.

About half-way through I started passing some of my classmates. Having very little in the way of competitiveness in me, I didn’t take much notice of it. About two-thirds of the way through I realized I was behind maybe only ten or so kids out of a class of about 30. Still, I didn’t feel the need to suddenly burst ahead. I just kept at the lazy pace I started at the beginning. Being first meant nothing. The fact I was still running was a marvel in and of itself. Then I started passing one, then two and then three, four more kids, until I was fourth behind the lead. That’s when my attitude began to shift.

The three ahead of me were genuine athletes, and though we were only in a P.E. class, they were locked in intense competition. So, imagine their confusion and surprise as I, the always-selected-last-for-teams kid, passed each one of them to finish first, and about seven seconds before the kid who had the lead almost the entire run. Forget that, imagine MY surprise! I was beaming all day.

The next week at dinner my mother announced that I had received an invitation to join the youth intramural multi-district track team, “…because of her exceptional demonstration during P.E. class and remarkable running time, we strongly believe L will make a great member of our team.” I burst out laughing so loud I startled my family.

When I settled down, my parents solemnly asked if I would not consider the opportunity. I explained I had “won” by a fluke. I won because I had a bad attitude. I won because irony knows no bounds. I had not the first clue I actually was doing the one thing you are supposed to do in long-distance running, which is to pace yourself. Trust me, had I known that, I would have walked. Or risked after-school detention and sat on the sidelines. No, I wasn’t going to sign up to be on anyone’s track team.

“I love the Olympics, because they enable people from all over the world to come together and—regardless of their political or cultural differences—accuse each other of cheating.”
– humorist, Dave Barry

About a decade later, I went to a college football game with the Big Time Football Fan ex-husband. High school, college, NFL, and whatever they call it in Europe, he loved, loved, loved football. This football game was the first, and the last game I would attend a game with him.

We were engaged at the time and in the worst kind of puppy love, so we were determined to share and participate in all the things that made us individually happy. On this occasion, I agreed to not only go to the game with him, but receive instruction about football as the game played out so that I might develop an appreciation for football and therefore enjoy watching the game with him in the future we were planning for ourselves. He agreed to patiently instruct me, which was ironic as he was a high school teacher. But, passion for football was not the same as the passion for teaching English lit, so patience had no place.

Anyway, there came a point where a foul was called on the field and little yellow handkerchiefs went flying. The crowd groaned and hollered. The ex sharply sucked air in through his teeth and grimaced.

“That was bad?” I asked. A woman seated next to me, who had now caught on to the fact that I was a novice receiving my first instruction, and that my ex would rather just watch the damn game, took the reins of my tutelage into her hands.

“Yes, that was very bad,” she said. I noticed a player limping off to the sidelines. My ex turned to the woman and apologized for me, which smacked of a parent apologizing for their child’s bad behavior, but before I could blurt out a defensive remark, the woman reached across me to give him a pat on the arm. “I’ll take it from here.” Either he was too dense, or too enraptured with the game to notice he was being patronized. Either way, he honestly didn’t care. He was off the hook.

As the game progressed, in a notably hushed tone, the woman continued to explain to me each of the plays as they happened. I gradually came to realize she was half-whispering because the others around us did not want to have to listen to a play-by-play. Anyway, of all the things happening on the field, I was the most curious about the yellow flags, concerned mostly because the first time I noticed them a player left the field with an injury.

“They are thrown to indicate a foul of any sort,” the woman explained, for whom I had purchased one of those obnoxiously large beers as a thank-you for her attention. I nodded, taking a sip from my own behemoth beer.

“So, basically, someone cheated,” I concluded. She smiled. “Yeah, I suppose. Sure.”

When the next yellow flag went flying, I stated matter-of-factly, “He was cheating.” Another woman seated in front of me turned around to tell me she agreed. When the next one flew, it was our team’s fault. “We aren’t supposed to be cheating,” I said, “aren’t we the good guys?” This got me my own cautionary flag as a surreptitiously and gently placed hand on my leg from the ex. When I looked at him I got an understated head shake.

Nevertheless, each and every time a yellow flag went flying—and by this time I figured out I could be vocal only when the opposing team did something bad—I proclaimed them cheaters. “Cheating!” I firmly stated, not necessarily yelling, but loud enough. And when the next flag after that flew against the other guys, my tutor and the woman in front of me—all three of us a bit drunk, I might add, having finished our colossal-sized beers—joined in my protest. By the end of the game I had everyone in the immediate vicinity of our seats yelling, “CHEATING!” whenever someone from the other team was fouled, followed by general laughter and high-fives. It was a lot of fun.

The ex, however, was not amused.

He and I did not end up happily ever after, but I always remember that day fondly whenever I happen to be watching a football game on TV.  In the same fashion as I did that day, whenever I am with a group of friends and family to watch the Big Game, I can get the room loudly laughing and declaring the opposing team a bunch of no good cheaters once the yellow flags set to flying. Trust me, it brings the high anxiety way, way down and makes the game fun for everyone, fanatic and fair-weather fan alike.

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