I have always been a sports fan.
My father was a multi-sport athlete and he instilled in me a love of sports. Growing up , in the days before television came to India, meant that I either watched sports live or read about it in the newspaper next morning. (The only exception was cricket which I avidly followed on the live radio broadcasts.) I happily tagged along with my father to basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton and tennis matches and to track meets.
Coming to the U.S opened up a whole new vista of sports because of television. Suddenly, it was possible to watch on TV what previously I had only been able to read about. Some of the sports were familiar to me ( basketball, tennis, track and field) but I quickly developed a liking for football, ( American) football. It is a liking that has grown over the years into a full-fledged mania. Once having fallen in its thrall, everything else becomes a runner-up.
This doesn’t mean I’ve neglected the other sports. While I wait for the football season to start, I watch tennis or soccer or track and field. Fresh out of college, I used to live in Forest Hills close enough to hear the roar from the packed stands at the tennis stadium nearby. ( For the youngsters among you, that was the site of the U.S Open until it moved to Flushing Meadows in the mid-seventies). I was a regular at the Open for the next twenty years and saw things that I can hardly believe now. For instance, can you imagine a young Jimmy dancing attendance on Connors his idol, Pancho Gonzales, and carrying his rackets and equipment bag? I also saw the Lakers at the Garden, the Millrose Games track meet, the Giants, the Mets and Yankees( many times), the Rangers, the Devils and the Islanders.
Over the years, sport has changed a lot and so have I. I am no longer the wide-eyed innocent I used to be. These are some of the things that have changed , with sport and with me.
1. I am much more selective in what I watch; I have to be. In my college days, I used to watch everything but have since become more choosy. It just isn’t possible to follow them all. The first to be jettisoned were college football and basketball ( except for March Madness). There are just too many teams to keep up with and the roster keeps changing every year. Next was baseball; a 162 game season was too long and I only got interested once the playoffs started. That happened with pro basketball too. Then tennis, except for the Grand Slams. Now, I follow regular season games only in the case of pro football and , even then, I rarely watch the entire game.
2. The standard of play is not what it used to be, except in the late stages of the playoffs or late in a tournament. The product has been diluted by lengthening the season or by expanding the league with more teams. A case in point is U.S Open tennis where the day’s matches are now divided into afternoon and night sessions with separate admission. Ticket prices too have risen an exorbitant level. I haven’t been to a baseball or basketball game in years but I think it costs upwards of $150 for two tickets, transportation/parking and refreshments. It just isn’t worth it to me.
3. Almost every sport is better to watch on TV than it is to watch live. With TV, I have the benefit of instant replay, slow motion replays and a close-up view of the action. There’s also expert analysis ( which can sometimes be annoying, it’s true). Even when I watch a game live, I spend half the time glued to the giant TV screens because the play is at the other end or because I don’t have a good seat. Additionally , at home, it is much easier to get to the rest room (LOL), the food is (much) cheaper and I can tune the game off if it becomes one-sided or if it is lousy.
4. I am becoming the sort of sports fan I used to laugh at. My friend, Arnie, was an ardent fan of the New York teams, all of them. Once ” his” team got eliminated, he would switch off and move on to another sport. For instance, as soon as the Mets were mathematically eliminated, he would say” Time for the Knicks” and would not watch even the World Series. If the Knicks stumbled, it was time for the Islanders, and so on. I’m not quite that parochial but it’s not like the old days where I would happily watch games where I had no rooting interest without any diminution in enjoyment.
5.I’m disillusioned with pro players and their greed. Certainly, they are entitled to whatever they can make but I wish they were more likeable. Far too many of them are arrogant trash talkers, steroid abusers and, in general, men behaving badly.
6. The computer age has made sports less enjoyable for all except aficionados of sports statistics. Because it is easier to sift through vast amounts of data, we are subjected to meaningless trivia when we read about sports or watch it on TV. e.g Smith is the first rookie to average 12 points,7 rebounds and 3 assists in the month of November. Or Jones is only the second left handed pitcher to strike out A-Rod three times in a row. Instead of admiring the balletic grace of a Federer we are subjected to endless discussions about who is the Greatest Of All Time. ( I hate that acronym and will not use it).
All this makes me sound like a curmudgeon and perhaps I am but I think my views are shared by many sports fans today. I hasten to say that I still love watching sports. This summer, I want to go to a minor league baseball game and to a track and field meet if there is one nearby. And , of course, I will continue to read about sports and watch them on TV.
Got to go now. Roger Federer has his hands full with Gael Monfils at the French Open…