Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rethinking sports

One perk of being a sportswriter is that if you don’t want to, you don’t have to do mornings. I usually live by that, except of course on Tuesdays, when the paper is in its final edit and shipped off to the plant for print.

Yet as Monday became Tuesday and morning crept ever so closer, I still could not sleep. Not a surprise if you know me and my medical history. This time it was yet another viewing of the movie “Miracle” that I used as an excuse.

If you have ever coached, then I am sure your favorite moment in the movie is the same as mine. While his team celebrates on the ice the biggest upset in the history of modern sports, Herb Brooks retreats to a tunnel away from the rink. Where he pumps his fist, crouches and then succumbs to tears.

His madness, his belief, his faith all wrapped up in everything he dreamed coming true.

Whether it is Olympic hockey or professional sports all the way through college, high school down to pee-wees and coach-pitch, coaching is about, or should be about, just that.

Taking something simple such a recreational activity and using it as a life lesson to make a better, richer life.

I know I just re-read that and even I think it is a bit fluffy. But there it is.

Why sports?

Why are we compelled to play? And then to pass it on the next generation?

Why do we get all worked up over games?

Often I wondered what it would be like to be one of those people who don’t “get” sports. Who doesn’t understand the hoopla. Who never have their mood affected or lives altered over a sporting event. I imagine it must be peaceful. I wonder what it would be like to feel that way. Or more importantly, not feel.

You may envy me for getting to write about sports for a living. And despite the constant flow of unhappy people questioning your coverage, it ain’t a bad gig. But I studied to be a school teacher mostly to be a coach.

Happiness is teaching a right-handed fifth-grade girl how to shoot a left-handed lay-up at the same time she learns to do it right-handed. And seeing her make both. It is taking a kid who can’t dribble very well or reach the rim on a free throw and turning them into a maniac on the defensive end. It is starting with fundamentals and not even using a ball for the first practice and then running a perfect press break or pick and roll at the end of the season.

Often I amazed myself at how I could get so worked up about what happened on a television on Sunday and how calm and soothing I could be in the gym, field, diamond, track or court, coaching kids.

I have worried lately because I don’t get all worked up after the Browns lose a game. By the same token, I don’t get that excited when they win either. I wondered why. After all, what disgusted me last year about the team is gone. They seem to have a plan. Charlie Frye appears to be worth believing in.

Is it just the drunken fans who have never heard of Dante Lavelli, Leroy Kelly or even Thomas Darden or Don Rogers? No, it is a deeper hurt that the last ten years have been stolen from me. What should have been?

I watch the games out of the corner of my eye. I haven’t turned them off. Often it is in the background while I write this week’s batch of articles. It has been 10 years since they left town. Why does it upset me more now than the three years they were gone? It is like there is a hole in me where my passion for the Browns used to be. That emptiness I think is worse than any choke-job loss.

I got sent this stupid little book that was reviewed elsewhere in this paper recently. I think it is a disgrace. A cut and paste job that informs me how my town is cursed. To be fair I didn’t read it, I figured I lived it or at least studied it. I opened one page, saw one wrong fact and threw it away.

I am starting to wonder if the real curse is letting prime time sports interfere with why I fell in love with sports in the first place. When you coach little kids, it is never about the losing. It is making them feel like and behave like winners regardless of the score or even if you kept score in the first place. Doing your best and leaving it all out there. That is what sports is about.