The problem is, there’s a gulf between what it feels like to watch sports, unencumbered, and all the baggage we bring to it. — Bethlehem Shoals
When we talk about sports, we’re really talking about our perspective. We’re talking about ourselves. Shoals is thinking about himself when he watches Royce White play basketball, he’s just one of the few brave enough to admit it.
Perspective is a position we can never leave, a place we can never share. The gap between what is there and what we see is very real. It’s the gulf mentioned above, filled with forced words, unexplained emotions and plenty of gnashing teeth. It’s what makes all of this stuff interesting in the first place.
In the sports world, things happen and we react. Our lone outlet is the endless commentary we provide in post-production. Even though The Narrative is, for most, determined by a level of gate-keeping just out of reach, how we react to it defines who we are.
We are hockey fans or not. Pro- or anti-soccer. Yankees or Red Sox. Tebow lovers or haters. Pick a side, because indifference is impossible. When you’re a sports fan, your opinions become who you are. Thousands of Bills fans can still recall if they liked Johnson or Flutie better. I know I sure can (Johnson).
For me, ‘sports’ is the noun that you enter into the personality equation society crunches for us. But when that noun goes away, when theater season ends or it’s too cold to play golf, it’s important to remember that we remain whole.
A person’s love of hockey doesn’t make them who they are. It does not define them, but frames them. It creates the context necessary to understand what the world looks like behind their eyes.
The NHL Lockout has robbed franchises of revenue and players of paychecks, but hockey fans have lost something very different. They’ve lost the context of winter, the sights and sounds of changing seasons and falling snow that lets them understand life when the planet feels a little colder.
They’ve also lost the community hockey creates and, deep down, that’s what really stings. People will find something to do on weekday evenings, even without hockey. Maybe they’ll watch some ridiculous singing show or something. The wheel in the sky will continue to turn.
What we lose is more important than 60 minutes of athleticism. It’s more personal than that. We lose the way we understand the place we call home, or what provides common ground for complete strangers. We lose what once gave a weird kid in black jeans and a goat head jersey something to talk about with the jocks. When we mourn the loss of games and weeks and months, we’re mourning our sense of self.
It’s still there, though. All those things that cloud our understanding of sports? As it turns out, all of that is what really matters anyway. Even without the box scores and overpriced beer, we remain complete.
The friends we’ve made through hockey are still friends, and the things we’ve learned about ourselves through faceoffs and overtime goals still ring true. Without hockey, we are still ourselves. We’re still a part of something.
So let’s hang out soon.