Sun, 07 Mar 2010 03:36:00 +0000

Every few years, one of my favorite writers—Rick Reilly—writes a column about why he’s a sportswriter. He always tells the story of how his journalism professor told him, “You’re better than sports.” Of course, Reilly went on to win National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times, and penned some of the most brilliant pieces I’ve ever read. But the worst of his writing is always when he tries to justify why he does what he does—for the 28th time.

But I get it because now, by some supernatural act, I became a sportswriter. And the eternal question for sportswriters seems to be:

How does it matter?

I always thought it didn’t—sports, that is—so I spent my entire college career trying not to be a sportswriter. But, in the end, my determination was no match for the power of ESPN, Disney, ABC and what appears to be God. I always thought sports writing was for those who just couldn’t hack it in news. It was for those who couldn’t let go of their romantic idea of children’s games—for people who cared more about where leather balls go than where the governor’s do. And I thought I’d never stoop down to that.

But I stooped and, here, I’ve stumbled upon some of the deepest insights on what it means to be human.

I know some people think what I do is meaningless—fluff. The men’s equivalent of fashion writing. I hear it in their tone; I sense it when they ask, “So do you want to do this long-term?” Because as they build bridges, cure ailments, study politics and make the world go round, I am writing about a game.

I think this is why Reilly pens that column. (And why others do, too.)

Reilly has a legitimate argument for why his pieces matter. But I aggregate sports rumors and crunch menial statistics. So, yeah. It’s the kind of thing people talk about in the elevator, but not anything that will change the world. Sometimes, my job feels meaningless in the big scheme of things, where people are dying in earthquakes and fighting in wars.

But, last week, I got an instant message from my freshman year roommate, Jules. He asked me what rumors I was hearing about his favorite hockey teams. We chatted for a while—something we don’t do regularly—and it was nice. The next day, another long lost friend called. We briefly talked about life but the conversation quickly turned to sports. We laughed, we mocked LeBron James and we were manly.

These conversations reminded me of my seventh grade Spanish class, when I sat behind a kid wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey. His name was Rob. I asked him if he liked Shaun King, who happens to be my favorite football player of all time. He said yes, and Rob and I became friends.

A few months later, I invited Rob and a few other friends to play basketball. We lowered the rim to eight feet so we could dunk on each other and prove our manliness. From there, the seven of us hung out more. We gathered to watch sports; we gathered to debate sports; we played fantasy sports and real sports, and sports videogames. And by the time we graduated high school, we were best friends.

It all began from a conversation about sports—you know, those meaningless games I write about.

Things like politics and crime make it easy to lose sight of how beautiful the world can be. Sports, however, can be wonderful and glorious, and nowhere else are those two things considered news. Nowhere else is happiness so universal, even for a Cubs fan. That might be why former Chief Justice Earl Warren once said, “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records people's accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man's failures.”

It’s been 10 years since that first conversation with Rob, and that first basketball game with my friends. The seven of us still exchange e-mails once a month, even as we’re scattered around the world, even with so little to talk about. Some of us spend months on navy ships, others of us stand in on surgeries and I work from my decrepit home office. Our worlds are different. But we can still talk about sports, mocking each other like we’re back in suburban Kansas.

So these days, I get up every morning and begin posting sports rumors early, sometimes even before I dress myself. That way, it gives some seventh grade kid a chance to read it before he bikes to school. If he’s lucky, it’ll spur a conversation that turns into a lifelong friendship.

And how does that not matter?