William K. Wolfrum's picture

    I know Why the Caged Man Cries for Sports

    At the age of eight, I enjoyed being in school plays and funny things. I loved cartoons, especially off-the-wall ones like Heckle & Jeckle. I adored H.R. Pufnstuf, without knowing a thing about the obvious drug references. My childhood bedroom door was covered in silly and gross Wacky Package stickers. I wrote silly little plays and dialogues. And when my Dad asked me if I wanted to play Little League Baseball, I said no. Wacky Packages

    At the age of nine, I said yes to baseball after hearing so often about how I had broken my father's heart the year before.

    My team was the Brewers and I was a quick learner who played second base and was the best fielder on the team. While I struggled hitting, I was proud of the respect I gained for being able to catch and throw a ball. In the eight- and nine-year-old division, we somehow managed to finish first and make it to a regional playoff game.

    It was a wonderful experience. Until my last at-bat. The first game we played in the playoffs we got wiped out and I couldn't hit the ball for the life of me. I was very frustrated when I went to bat for the last time in a game we were losing 20-4, when my dad – one of the team's coaches – called me over where he was coaching first base. “If you don't hit the ball this time,” he said, somberly. “I don't think I'm going to coach you next year.” Tearfully I made my way to the plate, and by some miracle I hit a weak grounder to second base. I was out, but I had made my dad proud. And my entire identity changed in that moment.

    Baseball and sports became my entire life. I played basketball, soccer and football. I became an avid boxing fan and studied the history of the sport with far more intensity then I ever had studied a school subject. From morning to night, sports was my life. It was my identity and remained so for a long time.

    I achieved minor success in baseball as time went on and I learned to hit. I made a couple all-star teams and played some in high school. I made my dad proud a few times, as sports was our sole way of communicating. Despite being of average size and athletic ability, it was constantly inferred that I would play in the Major Leagues one day. I was never pushed to go to college, I was pushed to play in the Major Leagues.

    By the time my career ended at the age of 16, I dreaded getting on the field and had the yips so badly I could barely play catch. When sports ended for me, so did my enthusiasm for everything. If I couldn't make my dad proud by playing in the Big Leagues, what was the point of anything? It took nearly two decades to find my identity again.

    And that's why grown men are screaming for professional sports to return despite the worst pandemic in generations. Even as the Florida Marlins announced that more than a dozen players and coaches were infected with COVID-19, some men are demanding they return.

    There is clarity in my vision of these men. The toxic masculinity that caused them to stop growing as humans is buried in sports, and emotions that should have been understood by maturity were given over to sports. This is why you see grown men playing softball with far too much passion, or being literally devastated by a pro team's defeat, or attacking an umpire for making a bad call for their kid and why sports web sites can be toxic hellholes of angry men.

    This is why you see some grown men demanding a pro sports return at the worst possible time. I know these men because i was one of them. Sports is all they are, it's their identity and it's how they have learned to emote. And a pandemic is not enough of an excuse to take it away from them.

     

    --WKW

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    I had to go to dance class. Finally a half century later I feel Ive found my redemption. There is no toxic tutu-linity to fight off. I am whole again. Plus there's no problem watching Swan Lake on widescreen home Cinema rather than The Met. Where's the remote?


    As a kid, I was tormented by the mystery of the spiraling football. At recess, the other boys would take turns as quarterback, hurling that ungainly ball in an impossibly long, elegant arc. Whenever I tried to throw it, the thing wobbled like a drunk pigeon and thudded sadly in the grass. Baseball wasn't much better. I couldn't even hit a damn tee-ball. No eye-hand coordination.

    I grew up in Iowa City, where most men and many women are Hawkeye crazy. We lived down the block from Kinnick stadium. On Saturday mornings, hordes of black-and-gold painted Hawk fans promenaded down the street on the way to the football game. We used to sell them lemonade and cookies for 10 cents. When the Hawks scored, we could hear the cheers from our living room. But we never actually attended any games. My dad wasn't into sports, at least not enough to pay $20 or whatever it cost for a ticket. I got to see a couple of free pre-season scrimmages, but I only attended one actual football game--as an usher with my Boy Scout troop.

    The only exception my dad made was wrestling. He'd been a wrestler in high school until he broke his thumb. The way he talked about it, I thought that he'd wrestled a couple years. Later, I realized that it had only been a couple months, and he'd never even had a match. I guess it made an impression though because he took me to wrestling matches at the old Field House, where the Hawks used to wrestle in a gymnasium with retractable bleachers. They were good, though, the best in the country. And the tickets were much cheaper.

    As it turned out, wrestling was the one sport that I was halfway decent at. Not at first. In 7th and 8th grade, I usually ended up with my shoulders on the mat. But something clicked freshman year. I was quick and strong, at least for a 112 pounder. I discovered that if I shot in for a takedown--straight and fast and hard without hesitation--I could usually tangle my opponent's legs and take him to the mat. There is something glorious in winning a tough match--alone on the mat before a cheering crowd, so fatigued that it hurts to breathe, as the ref holds your arm in the air to declare you the winner. But pinning people always made me uneasy. I could feel their humiliation as I held their shoulders to the mat.

    I had a lot of pins during my first two seasons in high school and barely lost a match. But that was JV wrestling, which is as far as I went. Varsity wrestlers are nuts, especially in Iowa. They spend all their time training, on and off season, and stunt their bodies by cutting weight. I had other interests--debate, drama, eating food. So I gave it up, now it's just a fond memory.

    Spectator sports remains foreign to me, though. I enjoy watching football and a few other sports, but I don't much care who wins. I could never understand how people, men especially, become so invested in the games. I don't say that disparagingly. Many of my friends are passionate sports fans, including some former dag co-bloggers. But it's like the mystery of the spiraling football, some Y-chromosome gene I lack that keeps me sidelined while the other boys play.


    For me was perhaps like losing my baby teeth, except in stages through college and just after. (never really played organizér sports, more pickup games). Can do some of the Olympics sports. Soccer? Forget it... Sure, I can fan, but why? No better entertaiment, leftover Y chromosomes?


    Robert Costa reports. Just pointing it out; discuss amongst yourselves.cheeky


    Someone's working your scam

    Should i tell them it's taken?


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