Adapting to a sports-crazed culture

I have a love-hate relationship with sports.

Perhaps these ambivalent feelings stem from the fact that growing up, I never had any sort of relationship with sports. When I was a younger, I wasn’t always playing or watching or talking about sports like a lot of kids do. You see, my parents were raised in a time and culture where athletics was not given the significance we give it today. It was cast aside with glamorous pursuits like art, music, and theatre — all of which my parents’ parents would call hobbies, not professions. Sure there were the famous athletes everyone admired, like cricketers Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar; but they were considered the rare exceptions. No middle class parents in their right minds would actually encourage their kids to follow in the footsteps of those heroes.

And, on another note, the definition of “middle class” was very different in India when my parents grew up, to America in 2015. I bet they never dreamed that the luxuries of modern suburbia, like watching football in the basement man cave or chauffeuring kids around to dance recitals and soccer practice, would be considered middle class.

As a result of the different social and economic circumstances, sport in India back then was limited to playtime at recess or games in the backyard, and tuning in to radio broadcasting of national cricket matches. Sports were placed on the back burner because for the most part, middle class families decided to focus on education. Education served as the pathway to a better life, a more stable life, and most of all, a respectable life. Everything else was just secondary.

With that philosophy as a foundation, my parents, and most other immigrants, had to go through a major change in mindset upon settling here. Unlike that generation, kids like my brother and I can join the school sports teams or play for the local rec. league without looking like we’re not as intellectual or as serious about pursuing a career. Even though our parents weren’t encouraged to play sports when they were younger, it doesn’t mean they discourage us. We can find balance in academics and athletics and reap the benefits of socializing, character building, and leadership skills found in sports. We can be just as part of American culture.

Like all things American, my parents assimilated sports into their lives very well. They taught us to root for the teams in the cities we lived in and try out for sports at school. They signed me up for a softball little league in kindergarten and encouraged me to take up basketball in middle school. They showed us how to enjoy live baseball games and Superbowl Sundays.

But despite all that, (and here comes the “hate” in the love-hate) I still feel like something’s missing. Because whatever excitement I have about sports, always pales in comparison to the people talking about world records and player trades and March Madness brackets and how that ref definitely should not have made that call. Or that guy who can basically spew out the entire history of his favorite franchise. It saddens me that I can’t always jump into these conversations, and though I sit there silently, conceding my inferiority about sports knowledge, internally I’m screaming, ’No, I do like sports I promise!’

This can be problematic sometimes, liking sports but not loving them, especially living in a society as sports-obsessed as ours. I often envy those who can proudly wear their dislike of sports as a character trait, of being too clumsy or simply apathetic to the appeal of athletics. I wish I could say the same, that I was the uncoordinated, always-picked-last girl in gym class, consequently left with a bitter resentment towards sports. Or that I’m the quirky hipster who doesn’t understand the entertainment in watching grown men tackle each other for no apparent reason.

But, alas, that isn’t the case. Because the truth is, I am just fascinated with sports. I love the sweet moves of basketball players and the graceful sportsmanship of tennis players, the thrill of competition and the rise of underdogs, the camaraderie of a team and the raw strength of the players.

In conversation with me, those feelings may not be apparent, because more likely than not, I won’t be able to tell you who won the game last night. (Last night was Duke, that one I know). But I’m okay with keeping this sports thing as a fondness, rather than a screaming passion. I think there are enough screaming, overly enthusiastic sports fans out there anyways.

I may not have the ancestral attachment to sports that many of my peers have, or the pleasure of cheering for the college team where my father/grandfather/great-father went to school. But I can appreciate and enjoy the wonders of a well-played game. And that is enough.

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