Sports As Story

This post first appeared on my former blog March 4, 2011.

I am already gearing up for football.  And I’m not really a serious sports fan.  Not like my brother.  He can talk stats and scores and teams and players for every sport.  Might come with the territory of being the father of three grown sons.

But as a writer, I’m also intrigued by how the media turns so many elements of sports into STORY.  First, there are the many personalities and life stories of the players.  These bring stories like The Blind Side or Bend It Like Beckham to life.  Then, there’s the fact that many sports provide the central conflict necessary for great drama: football, soccer, basketball, baseball, horse racing, NASCAR.  These sports pit individuals or teams directly against each other.  As fans, we root for our favorite (the hero) and despise the opponent(s) (the villain).  Our hero may have allies and enemies out there on the field, court or track.  Numerous events play out during the game providing our hero with obstacles to overcome as he tries to win.  There may be a black moment—that point as the contest/game is nearing the end when it looks as if all is lost for our hero.  Sometimes, our hero doesn’t overcome this, and the event ends “tragically” for us (i.e., our hero loses).  But other times, our hero defies all the odds and comes back to win.

For a case in point, I recommend this play from a 2010 Jaguars-Texans NFL game.  Note, when the video loads that there are 3 seconds left in the game on the clock.  This is the Hail Mary throw to beat all Hail Mary throws.

Now, THAT is drama at its best (with apologies to the Texans, because they played great football that day, and this Jaguar win was, in many ways, a fluke).  There was great conflict throughout the game, and there were wonderful twists and surprises that kept fans on the edge of their seats.

Let’s face it, sports events where one team trounces the other are not that entertaining.  It’s the close competition we crave.  The anticipation of a great play, the fear of imminent disaster.  The Kentucky Derby is referred to as the most exciting two minutes in sports.  And it is!  But you’ll notice the television coverage starts a couple hours before post time.  And, oh how they build up the conflict, the favorites, the underdogs, the long-shots.  Drama, drama, drama, so we’re compelled to stick around and watch that two-minute story.

Most sports also have a certain amount of pageantry.  The national anthem.  The coin toss.  The line up at the starting gate. The traditions give fans a chance to celebrate their team before the competition even begins.  At this moment, every participant is a winner.

Professional sports are big business.  They attract a lot of fans.  For years, I didn’t watch much sports.  I couldn’t quite understand what all the excitement was about.  But over the past few years I’ve started to watch more and more football.  I like the intricacy of the rules.  The strategies that come into play.  (I also adore Curling after watching enough of it during the 2010 Olympics to appreciate the strategy involved in that—amazing!)  I’ve tried to watch basketball and baseball, but they’re just not working for me yet.  I prefer to watch golf.

How about you?  Are you a sports fan? Do you enjoy the stories that play out during sporting events and media coverage?  Do you have a favorite sports story from books or movies?

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