I get it. Some people just don’t enjoy watching sports. I truly understand the struggle. Maybe you were forced to watch a sport by a person who didn’t allow or encourage questions. Maybe you thought, “there must be something more productive to do with these next 3 hours.” Or maybe you just can’t find anything interesting within the stuff happening on the screen. I don’t guarantee that I can make you love sports, but I am sure that I can help make it much more watchable. Let’s start with one of the toughest sports to sell to the un-enthused viewer: American Football.
Things I’ll never be able to help with:
There are some unforgivables when it comes to football. These are things I just can’t make better, so we have to just accept them at the outset.
- It is a very long game. Most NFL games run just over 3 hours long, but the playing time on the clock is a cool 60 minutes. A combination of advertising time and the fact that the clock is stopped on many plays makes this a harsh reality of watching the game.
- It’s a confusing game with a lot of weird rules. Football isn’t intuitive the way, let’s say, basketball is. There are hundreds of tiny rules and hundreds of ways to accomplish the end goal of scoring points, and this makes football difficult to explain and hard to understand.
- There is a culture of violence within football that is unacceptable. There is no excuse for this. Stories that have emerged over the last few years involving violent acts committed (or allegedly committed) by active NFL players include domestic abuse, pre-meditated murder, domestic abuse, and more domestic abuse. The NFL is being (rightly) taken to task for creating and supporting this culture with its actions, and I hope they make real changes to their player conduct policy that changes this reality. Fans can add pressure to the organization by talking about it, loudly, every time it happens. We can engage with the NFL’s sponsors and tell them how we feel about their support of this garbage.
Things I can definitely help with:
On to brighter things! Here are three easy ways to make football more fun to watch:
- Find the story. I’m a sporting-type person, so I have an appreciation for the physical skill these athletes display, but this might not be the case for you. What makes football (and all sports) so entrancing for me is that there are great stories being told on the backdrop of physical skill. You might find an underdog, an aging athlete trying to hold on to his shot at glory, a coach that no one believed in, a systematic shakeup that no one saw coming, an intense personal rivalry, or any number of other fascinating stories that can be told during the course of the game. If your announcers are worth their salt, they’ll point them out to you. If not, ask you friend who made you watch the game. Who should we care about? Who are we rooting for? What am I looking for? Who didn’t live up to expectations today, and why is that interesting?
- Pick an enemy. Another tried-and-true part of watching sports is picking out an enemy (often on purely superficial grounds) and then actively rooting against them. Me? I hate Tom Brady. I’ll write about it in more detail one day, because sports hatred is an evangelical pursuit, but for now, just know that I want him to lose, always. Picking a side adds excitement to the game for any viewer, and if your host can convince you on the story their team is telling, and the story of the enemy you are rooting against, I guarantee you will be more engaged with the game. Other easy enemies to root against include the New Orleans Saints for their management’s involvement in a despicable bounty scheme a few years ago (players being paid for purposely injuring opponents—way to be the literal worst, guys), the Pittsburgh Steelers for their unforgivably ugly throwback jerseys, or any Harbaugh-coached team because they both seem like unpleasant people.
- Watch for bloopers. This skill is one that you can bring to your sporting friend’s attention, and a way to build your confidence contributing to the watching culture. In sports, bloopers can be found anytime someone slips, stumbles, crashes into a table of carefully-filled Gatorade cups, takes out a cheerleader unintentionally, or just flat out beefs it. Thanks to the wonder that is PVR, these gut-busting moments can be replayed at home and really savoured. Anytime a player is flying out of bounds on the field, pay close attention to the havoc his exit wreaks. Someone is going to be bashed into, and there is a good chance they’ll drop something they are holding. Also watch the people around the end zones—the poor camera people at the end zones are always getting run over by an exuberant scorer, and they hang right in there hoping to get that perfect shot, so their collisions tend to be quite impressive.
The most important lesson here is that there is absolutely no “right” way to watch a sports game. Find what makes it interesting to you, and pepper your host with questions about that aspect. If they are anything like me, they’ll be thrilled that you are showing an interest, and that you are enjoying yourself at an otherwise interminably long game. If you find yourself stuck at a Super Bowl party this Sunday, February 7th, try these tactics, and make sure your host helps you make the most of your time spent viewing a very long game.