Every genius has their Achilles heel. Socrates? Pederast. Benjamin Franklin? Womanizer. And John Hodgman, in all his hilarious writing, suffers from the most tragic of flaws: he doesn't like sports.
(My flaw? If anything, I'm too perfect. Also, whistling.)
He made it quite evident in his first book, The Areas Of My Expertise, that only a couple sports references would be seen, strongly hinting that he wasn't all that into the genre of entertainment. His interview with the Onion AV Club cemented that fact.
Summing it up quite nicely was this: "I don’t even mind people’s passion for it, but I do tend to get ultimately frustrated by the presumption that I should care deeply." He points to high school, a place where, perhaps unlike any other locale, is a jungle where SPORTS ARE IMPORTANT.
I vividly recall a conversation I had with some schoolmates during my freshman year of high school. Actually, it wasn't so much a conversation as it was a verbal ass-whupping. The following week was the "big game" against the school's arch rival, and during lunch a fellow cafeteria chum asked if I was going to the game. Loathing football at the time, it wasn't part of my uproarious Friday night plans. Incredulous, but powerless to stop me, he requisitioned the assistance of some persuasive advocates, known in high school terminology as seniors:
"SO! You goin' to the game?"
"Um… probably not."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU'RE NOT GOIN' TO THE GAME?"
"I really don't feel like going."
"WHY THE HELL NOT?"
"I'm not really into football."
"THAT DOESN'T MATTER. DUDE. EVERYBODY IS GOING TO THE GAME. EVERYBODY WILL BE THERE. YOU'RE GOING TO THE GAME."
It was quite a convincing argument, him being three years older than me, loud, adamant about this football event, and three years older than me. Impressionable 14-year-olds aren't going to turn down an offer like that.
(Aside: Y'know, the more I think about it, that was the night in which I started to grow accustomed to football. Looking back, how the hell was that possible? Our school lost. My ride home ditched me, and in a pre-cell phone era, this required walking across the stadium to locate a pay phone. By all accounts it should have scarred me from the entire concept of the sport. I guess those seniors WERE, in fact, rather knowledgeable.)
Of course, if I had already concluded that football or sports in genral wasn't my thing, it would've been an awkward exchange. At the very least the subsequent public de-pantsing would have launched my candidacy to become president of the chess club.
This is probably what Hodgman is talking about; and it's hard for me to deny. Folks such as myself want to convert people who hate sports, because we love them so much and continue to seek out others who share our irrational hobby.
The teen years seems to be the period in one's life during which individuals conclude whether or not they are sports fans. The same goes for people who realize they're gay. They stay isolated for quite some time, spout some masculine epithets at the right moments, and when they feel comfortable, suddenly they shout from the heavens: "I am … not a sports fan!"
Why not? Who knows. These nice people still immerse themselves either in books, film, video games, or some kind of hobby that glorifies irrational reality. What sometimes gets lost is that the vices of sci-fi and sports are two sides of the same 20-sided dice. The line between World of Warcraft raids and fantasy football drafts is coated in a thin layer of nacho cheese.
The main difference, I suppose, is that athletes will not only acknowledge fantasy sports, they will do commercials for them and even play them themselves. The athletes that admit loving role playing games are few and far between. Yes, it's probably more socially acceptable to play pretend sports than pretend fighting, although at this point in history it's a societal toss-up. However, it's WAY more acceptable to suit up in football pads than a wizard's cloak. I know why, and yet … well, I don't know why.
Hundreds of years ago, the proponents of athletics sold their theory better than the timid yet passionate philosophers who sat around playing pente grammai. The Socratic method didn't have cool machismo like the Olympics did. Intellect simply wasn't as persuasive as a boisterous "DUDE, EVERYBODY'S GOING TO THE CHARIOT RACE." That could explain the hemlock.
(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)