Growing up in Queens, New York, my heart belonged to the Brooklyn Dodgers, one of three big league baseball teams in the Big Apple. It was out of the question to root for the Yankees. With their pinstripe uniforms, they seemed more to be businessmen than ball players. The Giants weren't in it. The Dodgers didn't actually win all that many games, so being a fan required a stout heart and a strong stomach. When I moved to Cambridge for college and graduate school, I inherited the Boston Red Sox, who were, if anything, worse. The Curse of the Babe hung over the team like the permanent cloud over Joe Btfsplk, the bad luck character in L'il Abner. Every Spring, the Sox would get off to a great start, sometimes even topping the Yankees in the rankings, but come late summer, they would go into their patented predictable fade. It took real character to be a Red Sox fan, character for which being a Dodgers fan was great training. We Sox fans wore our inevitable disappointments like battle ribbons. scorning Yankees supporters as fair weather fans.
Somehow, as I have aged, I have lost my edge, and now, in my eighties, I find I that I have sunk lower than a Yankees fan in my enthusiasms and allegiances. It all started with Tiger Woods. So long as he was tearing up the links, I was a rabid supporter, despite hating the game to which he had dedicated his life. But once he began to go downhill [roughly at the time that his picture book marriage broke up because of his compulsive philandering], I lost interest. So I transferred my loyalties to Venus Williams [thereby also switching games, but since I am only a spectator, who cares?] Lately, it is her little sister Serena who has totally captured my heart. Just today, I watched her crush Azarenka to make it to the Semis at Wimbledon.
I have done a good deal of soul-searching about my feckless fickleness, and I have come up with an explanation that is, no surprise, political and ideological in its roots. So far as I can work it out, what is going on is this: I really, really care about what happens in the world -- the exploitation, the oppression, the discrimination, the hideous unending brutality -- but there is, to be honest, virtually nothing I can do about the evils I so profoundly hate. Sports offers an alternative world in which the passions run as high but the outcome really does not matter at all.
I mean, deep down, I just don't care if the Sox lose a game or Woods hits a bogie or Serena double faults. When my team or my star is winning, I can cheer to the echo. When they lose, I can turn off the TV set and forget about it instantly. That is, for me, the real attraction of sports. It just does not matter at all.
So I will be rooting for Serena Williams to beat Maria Sharapova in the semis, but if, as is always possible, she loses, I will turn off the set and go about my business without a second thought. Alas, it is not so easy to put the real ills of the world out of my mind.