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Tuesday, September 27, 2011  

Why Sports Matters

I'm a big believer in the Whet Moser theory of Why Sports Matter. Not big enough to get off my digital duff and find a good link, but here's the gist: the game itself is not important, so the ways we respond to it and surround it with significance are especially pure. Well, I'll let him explain it.

Anyway, as I was on my way to Messiah Lutheran Church in Wauconda this morning, I was digesting the news of Ozzie Guillen's not-unexpected departure from the White Sox with the help of morning sports talk guys Waddle and Silvie. And Tom Waddle, the former Bears player, said something very powerful about Mike Ditka's departure in 1992. He admitted to crying when he heard that Ditka had been fired. And here I'm paraphrasing:

It's not like I was sitting on the steps of Halas Hall bawling. But I got into my car after I heard the news, and I shed tears. Because that guy was the only guy who would ever give me a chance. And I get it, OK, I had a crappy career. But all he cared about was [guts? effort?] and loyalty. And he gave me a chance. We were a bad football team in 1992. But I loved that man, and if I could have run through a brick wall for him--I was too small and too slow--but if I could have, I would have.

Now the thing here is that I freaking hated Mike Ditka. These days I like him just fine, the grizzled emeritus talking tough on the radio and selling saucy-named red wine. But back in the late 80's, early 90's, I despised the sight of him. And this remembrance by Tom Waddle, about whose football career I do not especially care (just so you know: 9 touchdowns and 2,109 yards in six seasons), moved me deeply. It's easy, especially in the Moneyball era, to think about sports strictly in terms of stats, money, wins-over-replacement, and so on. And there's a lot of truth to that, just as there is in any field that has embraced the modern fascination with such tools. But behind those metrics are entirely ordinary human beings with entirely sympathetic responses to things like loyalty, respect, approbation, and (lest we forget) money. And there are fans whose own connection to the game is anything but rational in a narrow economic sense.

Those of us who were there for 2005 will always have a soft spot for Ozzie, tedious as his foul-mouthed press conferences and mediocre team performances became. You could commute this minor sense of loss into a sort of blame-shifting: the players underperformed, GM Kenny Williams' deals were a disaster, and so on, and maybe all that is true enough. A sport is a business to the brass. Ozzie, like Ditka, couldn't expect to eat out forever on one championship. Most fans seem to understand that. But they'll always have a seat at our table, whether they're the guy who gave the slow, small undrafted kid from BC a chance or the guy who brought the big prize to the Southside for the first time in 88 years.

P.S. Something I apparently left out of that old post was going to campus the next day in my Sox cap and coming across another guy on the quad in a Sox cap (the U of C, despite its location, is not a hotbed of Sox fandom), and seeing him smile this big, stupid, not-quite-open-mouthed grin at me. Triumph!

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 10:28 PM
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