I watched an entire football game last night. This is significant for me because I'm not one of those queers that has readily adopted an appreciation and a strong understanding of the game - or any sports for that matter - but I'm working on it. The game of football bounds so many facets of American culture that I've decided to make it a point to at least learn the basics so that I can share in the conversation. In reply to "what did you think of the game last night?" You can't very well say "how'd you know I played Scrabble with my mother?"
I have a sordid past with sports so learning has been a chore for me. I developed an aversion to contact sports ever since hitting a foul ball in 4th grade gym class. After years of swinging the bat I was so excited to finally make contact with the ball that I ran around the bases as if I hit a homer. I didn't know the difference between a foul and a grand slam. My fat, exhausted body met with an uproar of laughter from not only my peers but my gym teacher when I finally reached home plate. On the verge of tears, I've hid in the gym locker ever since. There was also the time, many years later, that we played touch football. When the ball came my way I was so afraid of coming in contact with it, of making a mistake, I ran in the opposite direction. Running from the ball, puck or whatever object of bounce so chosen, quickly became a gym class habit of mine. I feared contact with the ball more so than taking an Anatomy and Physiology final and writing, from scrap, a twenty-five page term paper all in the same day. Thus my history with sports has not been a good one.
However, over the past few years, in appreciation for the bond that suffuses the office and many of my gay friends, I've allowed myself to enjoy the camaraderie and team dynamics expressed in preparing for a new season (I've joined many fantasy leagues), watching a game (kicked back a few with the boys) and celebrating victory and agonizing in defeat (I cry either way). I've found this common thread to weave you through some of the most unique characters, people you would never think in which to be acquainted. And here is where I like to be, experiencing all facets of society be they straight, gay, anti-sports, sports junkies, conservative or liberal. I've found this experience not only creates good writing material but also allows one to experience life.
Last night, I experienced the New England Patriots' victory alongside two retired school janitors, an unlikely pair for a gay writer/business analyst (that's me). With my Nike FlexCap turned backwards (I didn't realize that was of some rallying significance), I "kicked back" a couple Bud Lights and cheered in the defeat of the San Diego Chargers. As I was studying the plays, I fielded conversation with them on how Jimmy F., the retired custodian from the middle school was coming back to act as "super" and how the remodeling of the high school replete with the abatement of asbestos played into that. On the topic of sports, there were occasional questions I couldn't answer but with time I may be able to: "Where's Caldwell? Did he catch that pass?" I wanted to say, "Is he the one with the really nice ass or the big guy with man boobs?"
Learning the lexicon of football takes time and I'm only a couple years into it. My quest for knowledge really started a couple years back when I began dating this jock I had met. It was during the playoffs. At work, I had been talked into purchasing a couple of football squares. I didn't want to be alone in seeing if I won anything (I need the guidance of some sports fanatics to understand it anyway) so I went to the bar that I occasionally frequent. There I found out I had a bit of beginner's luck, winning over $200. Shortly after that Joe the Jock and I became an item. Together we would frequently watch games (football, hockey, baseball), hang out at sports bars (even straight ones) and, more importantly, play in the end zone. I learned a lot from him but, as with lots of things, I learned how much I had to learn. I found out that during a game it is not a good time to ask lots of questions. He didn't have much patience for silly questions such as: "What do you mean four downs make a down? Isn't that a play?" or "Shouldn't they be running the other way?"
I didn't want Joe to know how much I didn't know. I wanted him to think I too was a jock so I played the role by donning baseball caps, Nikes and team shirts. Home alone, I kept the game on in the background and with him I kept a lot of silly questions to myself. But the business analyst inside me quest for knowledge; asking questions is the primary way I learn. "Just enjoy the game," he'd say to my "why is that a penalty?" What he didn't realize was in order to me to enjoy I needed to understand and understanding meant questions. In time, Joe and I parted, not because he found out I was only a quasi-sports fan but more so on his lack of commitment. He could commit to watching Bledsoe and Brady but not for showing up on a date.
While the queer in me thirsts for more, I'll persevere. Be it tackling in bed or on the field, this backwards baseball cap wearing queer will continue asking questions. For example, as my friend Spider suggests, why are tight ends not always so tight?