When the Winter Olympics climaxed earlier this year with the storybook gold-medal win of the Canadian men’s hockey team and the streets of Vancouver (my hometown) exploded with exhilaration as joyous pundits proclaimed that the nation had been changed forever and coast to coast the country joined hands and hearts in a mutual spasm of unadulterated glee and national pride, I had my usual reaction: eh.
Actually, I’m not a completely empathy-free jerk, so my response to the bliss was mixed: mild happiness that friends would be elated about the outcome, relief that the games were wrapped up and I wouldn’t have to feign interest until the next foofaraw, and a genuine sense of regret that I just don’t give a damn about hockey, or any sport, really, and never have and never will.
I’m not proud of the fact. And I’m not being a snob about it, bemoaning the plebeian pursuit of sweaty endeavours while I sit in my book-lined study swirling a brandy snifter. Many of my smartest, highest-of-brow friends are avid sports junkies—in fact, the more eggheady they are, the more they like to go on about boxing or good old road hockey. It’s a defence mechanism, I guess.
Living a life without any interest in sports can be socially crippling. Want to make small talk before the meeting? How about last night’s game, hey? Meeting your new girlfriend’s father for the first time? Go Canucks! I’ve tried faking it—grabbing a look at the sports section before dinner with the in-laws, forcing myself to follow playoff results in the Stanley Cuporama, or whatever it’s called. But it never works, and at some point the truth always outs: I’m a replicant among the humans.
And it’s not for lack of exposure, either. I grew up sailing, kayaking, cross-country skiing. When I was forced to play team sports in school, I was mediocre—not great, but not terrible—and always profoundly unenthused. As a spectator, I’ve been to big-league sporting events, and I’ve spent hours drinking defensively and going nearly mad with boredom at Super Bowl parties. I’ve plastered a “go team go” rictus on my face in sports bars around the world when work or social obligations made it unavoidable. But for whatever reason, watching two groups of people push balls and pucks and things back and forth for several hours is pure tedium to me—even though my intellectual friends tell me about how deeply it speaks to eternal verities of human character, of how top athletes are, as David Foster Wallace once put it, “profundity in motion.”
Yet here I am with this blind spot, trapped in a world where so many are wildly enthused by something that is, to me, like watching paint dry—watching paint dry obnoxiously, loudly, endlessly. I genuinely regret my inability to join in. But it’s only a game, guys.