If chasing a piece of leather around a field is your cup of tea, then I have some more senseless things you can do for entertainment
Cinema has its moments, and what moments they are! Occasionally, some or other character utters a line that wedges itself into the collective psyche and sticks there with all the tenacity of a limpet with agoraphobia. People wittily quote these lines to each other at parties until they bore everyone, shelve them and then haul them out for reuse after decades as exhibits in the museum of dusty, sentimental nostalgia.
“I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender.” That line, from ‘On the Waterfront’ made Marlon Brando’s name. In ‘Gone with the Wind’, Clark Gable’s character, Rhett Butler, thrilled everyone with the raw, invigoratingly honest sentiment, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Darth Vader gave an entirely new meaning to heavy breathing and reintroduced everyone to the Oedipus Complex with the words “No, I am your father,” although this is usually, mistakenly remembered as, “Luke, I am your father.” And then there is the shared dialogue between Cuba Gooding Jr and Tom Cruise in ‘Jerry Maguire’. You know the script, so repeat after me… “Show me the money!”
Nothing much binds these four lines together, other than great movie making and story telling. However, of these four, at least two fall within the context of sport. It might be three, depending on your take on relationships, but that’s another ball game entirely. Marlon Brando’s failed boxer, Terry Malloy, and Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire are actually involved in or represent interesting dramatic failures, in some field of sport.
As far as I am concerned, sport is something that happens to other people. I don’t spend valuable Saturdays on the couch when I could be playing computer games or procrastinating on work that I should be catching up on. Nor do I lose my cool at the coffee machine on a Monday morning as I rehash the plays. I understand the mechanisms and rules of the various types of sport to some degree, but it completely fails to stir my emotions or get my blood pumping.
Somewhere in the distance, I hear a sports fan shouting, “But you must play it to understand it.” I had the experience of playing rugby, soccer, cricket and schoolyard baseball. I also swam. Rugby was lively, though it might have been improved with the addition of baseball bats. In hindsight though, I didn’t like the pain involved in the tackle. Swimming was great. I used to swim up and down, up and down, like a clockwork duck, with all the time in the world to think. Unfortunately sport still doesn’t move me.
So why do sports and sportsmen and women reverberate through humanity’s collective conscious, in spite of the incredible variety of choices and the fundamental pointlessness of chasing a ball around a field?
I put it down to safe drama and emotion, the kind that doesn’t involve getting shot at or having a teacup thrown at your head. Everyone needs to be part of a story, and sport provides the tales that keep people crowded around the coffee machine. The other aspect is belonging. Sport definitely divides people into groups of believers, albeit supporting a team and not dogma. But I am not a great joiner, and as much as doing obeisance before an altar or a ballot box does not appeal to me, nor does taking up cudgels for a team.
The sport that I played at school was not without its moments. There was a certain sense of pride involved in catching a ball, or not actually scoring an own goal. One thing that I can remember is the old cliché, “It’s not important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”
This idea seems to have been lost somewhere between then and now. Apparently ‘winning is everything’ nowadays. Yet the games are played, a final score emerges, followed by more games and more scores, and actually all that remains is an endless cycle of games that lead to nothing but more of the same.
The script has lost its meaning and reward in endless repetition of the same circumstances, plot and players. That’s why you won’t catch me at the coffee machine on a Monday morning.