So there I was, just after concluding what I hoped was a passionate speech (probably more of a speechella since I was sharing the stage) for literature as a tool for social activism. Some people came up to the panel and shared their view, asked a few questions, and then this tall man leaned in.
“English right? Which team?”
I never batted an eyelid. He nodded approvingly as I espoused my affinity for Arsenal, the soccer team I have passionately followed since my Uncle George, may he rest in peace, took a wide-eyed six-year-old to his first game in 1970. We won 4-0 and I, totally absorbing everything around me, missed every goal. But undeterred, I followed in the family footsteps (one cousin aside, but we don’t discuss that) and became a Gunner-for-life.
Every day, I drink my morning coffee reading the New York Times and the daily offering of Arseblog. I am often moved to tears of joy or anger, or burst out laughing, and I also think the New York Times is a good read.
But this left me thinking. Why do we, primarily though not exclusively, 21st century men, need to find connections over sports? I wear a Golden State Warriors pin on my jacket, and I admit, the pin serves a purpose as I work the room making contact with donors for my non-profit, or to promote my books.
Then, yesterday morning, as I worked out on the elliptical at the gym, I came across an article in Men’s Health (issue – November 2010) by Lee Child called “Get Your Head in the Game”. He took my thoughts one stage further. Why do we, grown men and women all, insist on wearing our lucky shirts for the game? Why do I get up at 4 or 7 am on a Saturday to watch my team play live in the UK, because if I record the game we might lose?
We all know that, though these players need our support, their winning a game probably depends more on hours of training, planning strategy and individual and team preparation. My old Arsenal shirt (commemorating our last year at Highbury before moving stadium), worn 5,371 miles away (I looked it up) from where the game is taking place, at 4 am in the morning Pacific time, probably does not tip the scales.
The answer lies perhaps in the fact that our lives, particularly in the digital age, are becoming so predictable. Sure, shit happens (nice surprises too), but we generally know how our life is playing out, hour-by-hour, backed up by electronic reminders. We even pay most of our bills automatically and can buy our groceries without leaving home.
What is left is the uncertainty of 90 minutes of soccer, when giants can be humbled. The Warriors (NBA) have just reeled off 7 of 9 victories, including winning against teams that will make the playoffs. My own team Arsenal just beat the team considered by most football fans to be the best in the world, even having to come from behind to win 2-1.
This is what makes our blood pulsate. It connects us to the excitement of the hunt. Even if we are not the one to throw the spear, score the goal, or shoot the game-winning basket, even if our team will not be champions at the end of the game or season, for a few moments we allow ourselves to revel in the world of unpredictability. Perhaps this helps to set us apart from the onslaught of technology. Perhaps it is one the few ways to maintain our humanity in the 21st Century.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/