November 6, 2007

Bennett Tries to Understand His Passion for Sports

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I cried after nearly every single Bulls loss in the 1995-96 season. I cried in every way possible. The screaming cry, the fetal position rock-back-and-forth silent cry, the gasping for air cry, the single tear on the cheek cry, the “please Cory not here, we’re at the game” cry. I tried them all.
Luckily, that Bulls team only lost 10 games in the regular season and three in the playoffs. My mom might have put me up for adoption otherwise. She probably became a Bulls fan simply because she wanted them to win so she wouldn’t have to put up with my antics.
My mom’s look of utter confusion, bewilderment and even fear on occasion were all appropriate reactions. She had no clue why I was so upset, and that upset me. I had no clue why I felt so awful, and that upset me even more.
I had never cared before that season either. I was not born a sports fan like some kids. I didn’t wear Chicago Cubs onesies (like my children will) and didn’t see my first football game until 1999 — Bears-Cowboys — when I was 12 (Perhaps if I knew who Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were at the time I wouldn’t know them now as the guy with more concussions than Reggie Ray, the incoherent analyst and the human tie knot).
In fact, I hated sports. I played in the American Youth Soccer Organization (which every Chicago kid does) for years as a kid and was bored to tears. My early highlights included scoring on the wrong goal one week and the next excitedly running off the field during the game to show my mom the dime I had found at midfield while the game whirled around me.
Thinking back, I don’t know what I did to entertain myself, but I must have somehow found a way to spend over eight years of my life otherwise occupied.
Maybe it was for the better. When I became a Bulls fan, it wasn’t passive; it was more like profiled-in-a-magazine-because-your-basement-is-a-creepy-shrine-to-Michael-Jordan intense.
I loved the team, and it drove me to begin playing sports — particularly basketball — and I loved it. Even soccer became interesting. I went to basketball camps, and I played in the local community leagues. I played in my local JCC league (whoever said Jewish kids can’t ball is lying, or obviously hasn’t checked out the junior high Jewish circuit).
Still, on Saturday mornings (or probably Sunday mornings in the JCC league), I often found myself desiring to lie on the couch and watch TV or read in my bed. Putting on those sneakers just seemed like such an inconvenience, especially if we had to drive to the to the Niles, Ill. JCC.
I would, however, plan an evening around a Bulls game. Even more, I would let the game dictate my actions. If they were losing, I would go do my chores. I would walk the dog, practice my violin, do some homework, anything.
That same passion just wasn’t there on the actual court for me. I asked a couple of my friends recently if they had ever cried after a sporting event in which they played. Fairly quickly, I got affirmative responses from both, citing specific games and reasons.
Certainly I had, too. I sat and racked my brain. Baseball senior year? No, my team rode the short bus and looked like a group of clowns piling out of that thing. Soccer at any point in high school? Nope. Basketball? No, wait, YES! But not because of a game. I cried because I couldn’t take the abuse from my coach (I can still here “Cory, don’t shoot!” every time I raise up).
I reasoned with myself that it was because I wasn’t a main contributor on any of those teams. But I had been. I started on the basketball team my freshman year of high school (and won every damn wind sprint in practice, you can never take that away from me) and on soccer my sophomore year of high school.
And, regardless, even if I just mopped up in garbage time (is the garbage man a good nickname? Well, too late I guess), I was still contributing more than I was when I screamed at the TV with only my dog and cat in attendance (until I would scare them away).
So why do I care so much? Why is my very happiness wrapped up in something I can’t control in the slightest? (it hurt me to write that last sentence, I still hold some vestiges of my superstitious past).
This sounds like a job for Mama Bennett. Her insight is always brutally honest.
“I don’t know,” she said dully (she’s such a kidder). I pressed her for more.
“I noticed that you preferred watching sports to playing them very early on,” she said. “You went to a birthday party at Medieval Times and you came back with this little flag and wouldn’t stop running around and waving that thing for two days. You kept talking about how much you loved cheering them on.”
Why would I like encouraging more than doing?
“The camaraderie?” she offered.
Wrong. Gosh Mom, I could get that on a sports team too. I think I know what it could be. What if I actually liked the fact that I couldn’t control the outcome? It allows me to be passionate about something without having it reflect on me as a person.
“Sure,” she said. I could hear her shrugging noncommittally through the phone.
The sadness I get from losing a game personally and watching my team lose a game are two completely different feelings. When the Cubs got knocked out of the playoffs in 2003 (yes, the Bartman incident), I was inconsolable. I felt like I had a giant lead blanket smothering me and I wanted to curl my body up as tight as possible. It was unjust, unfair. I had done nothing to deserve this. I hurt everywhere.
I hurt everywhere after a meaningful loss that I was a part of, too. But it’s a different kind of hurt. I feel utterly empty, as if I’m the most worthless person in the world. I’m an idiot. Any rational individual would have just simply not tried. I tried and failed, and it’s all my fault. It’s not a burning anger; it’s a slow, dull, eat-away-at-your-sanity self-loathing.
I think I can’t stand feeling personally responsible for anything negative. It eats away at me. Even though the pain is far worse when you feel like you’ve been irrationally punished, at least it’s not your fault — you’re not a bad person.
How does that sound, Mom? Has the grasshopper become the sensei?
“Sure, it’s like any fantasy we participate in,” she said. “Sports is an enjoyable, entertaining fantasy.”
Well, yes. I guess, but. … She’ll never get it. I probably won’t either.