If you’re not sitting down as you read this, perhaps you should be. I’ll bid this well wish of caution: What you’re about to read might cause a person who is standing to fall over, causing injury to themselves and/or others around them.
I used to play sports.
If you know me, you know that’s a bizarre claim. But as bizarre as it might be, it’s truth without fault.
Just as any other young person’s foray into sports began, I began playing peewee sports at an age so young I can’t recall.
Baseball — or tee ball, more precisely — was where I first earned my stripes. My dad was the coach, just like many of your fathers were and are, too. This poses a brief question of interest: How are you supposed to focus on the sport when you don’t know whether to say “dad,” “coach,” “coach dad” or “mister coach dad sir” from left field when you have to go to the bathroom during the top of the fourth inning.
Anyway, baseball. I lived and breathed it, but perhaps not in the same sense my other baseball brethren did. While they focused on getting “reps” and “gains” and watched all levels of the sport on TV, I lived and breathed it in a more … abstract … sense.
I played in left field, which is where mister coach dad sir put you if you contributed no value to the game. I breathed in the fresh smells of the grass and dirt and lived for the moment the inning was over and I could return to the dugout. The dugout was a much-welcomed break for me, and I certainly didn’t have to worry about being put in the batting lineup because my hand-eye coordination mimicked that of my post-womb self: I had none.
My lack of hand-eye coordination was not just evident on the baseball diamond, either. I took a longer foray into peewee basketball, but soon decided it wasn’t the sport for me either when, in the rare occurrence that coach put me in against the Riverview Raiders, fifth-grade me decided I’d showcase my delicate masculinity by jumping out of bounds to save a loose ball.
What ensued was a failed, flagrant attempt, peppered by my lack of hand-eye coordination, at saving the ball, which resulted in me smashing my left arm into the concrete gymnasium wall, snapping my ulna just above the wrist.
You’d think a dugout-ridden stint with America’s past time and a broken arm from tossing around the rock would have kept me away from sports for the rest of forever — but nay! Sophomore Kaleb decided to join the Tiger Cross-Country team.
Cross-country was my favorite sport to play, but I was terrible at it. I enjoyed being active and getting to simply say that I played a sport, but I was no more successful with this sport than the previous ones. I always finished second to last during each meet — because, no matter how bad I was, I wasn’t going to be last, even if it meant sprinting dangerously at the end and causing so much strain on my unathletic body that I vomited upon crossing the finish line.
I eventually decided cross country was not for me either, but at least I could say that I tried.
While I was never good at sports, I didn’t not enjoy them. I wrote earlier that I enjoyed baseball in a more abstract way — that’s the absolute truth, and I’ve found that in every sport I’ve ever played or watched.
What I enjoyed about sports then and what I enjoy about sports now is their ability to transcend the negativity of being a disregarded left fielder, a broken-armed benchwarmer and a last-place-finishing runner. For centuries, we’ve let sports unite us and make us proud to be a Tiger, a 49er or a Bison.
Let’s not let the actions of a NFL free agent and an apparel company steal the spotlight of what makes sports great in the first place.
We’ve got bigger hills to die on.