NEW YORK - CIRCA 1987: Bo Jackson #16 of the Kansas City Royals bats against the New York Yankees during an Major League Baseball game circa 1987 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Jackson played for the Royals from 1986-90. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

My wife asked me recently, “Why do men love sports so much?” At the time I couldn’t distinguish if she was asking me out of annoyance for my screaming at the television, or, she had a genuine interesting in knowing.  Either way,  I put forth the diligent duty to examine this query to the best of my abilities.  I poured in hours of philosophical enlightenment and insight into it.  My best efforts to answer this question as honestly and as thoroughly as I possibly could have provided me with these examples.  I hope they help shed light onto the unknown of men’s love affair with sports.

The Initial Realization

A child’s mind hasn’t experienced the world yet, obviously. It has a tenuous grasp on the limitations of the human body and the physical properties that bind the universe.  Yet, we do not fully comprehend it.  To a young boy, athletes do super human things, and as such, they become superheroes in our minds.  My first vivid idealization that an athlete was a superhero came in a 1988 Monday Night Football—a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants.

The Eagles were in the red zone and Randall Cunningham rolled to his right.  The Giants, specifically linebacker Carl Banks, blew the play up and hit Cunningham hard at hip level. Cunningham planted his hand in the ground and popped back up unto his feet nearly as quickly as he fell. He then threw the ball harder than I had ever seen someone throw a football to Jimmy Giles in the back of the end zone.  While this was the first example, it most certainly was not the last time Cunningham would amaze the sports world.

(The play listed above happens at the thirty-eight second mark of this video)

Solidification

Recently, I bought the old Nintendo system to introduce my son to my initial world of gaming, and to show him what 8 bits of excitement looks like.  I also bought the greatest football game ever made—Tecmo Super Bowl.  After hooking it up and turning it on, almost instinctively I said, “The Bo Jackson rule is in affect.” My son, baffled and confused, asked me, “Who is Bo Jackson?”  I realized that I had partially failed as a father.  If Randall Cunningham initiated feelings of athletes being super human, Bo Jackson solidified them.

Nothing I can write in this space is going to exemplify what Bo Jackson was.  His accolades render one speechless and his greatness cannot be captured in words.  The day he was injured, I cried, realzing that my heroes were not impervious to peril.  He played nearly three partial MLB seasons with an artificial hip. Nothing explains his greatness more appropriately or more thoroughly than this.

Reasoning and Understanding

By no means am I insinuating that growing up male is any more difficult or challenging than growing up female in this world.  They both are struggles to find one’s self.  When a man hits puberty he is trying to find his own way.  He has learned from both lessons his father has given him and by emulation of what his father has done on the basic parameters of what being a man entails.  Now, he has to discover what his version of a man is going to be like. This creates tension between a father and son. You feel as though his lessons are over and you need to forge your own path in the world.  Later in life, when you become less ignorant, you realize that these lessons never cease, they only alter with your age.

Communication during this time is limited to say the least.  Mostly to hellos and goodbyes and you seek out the next unfortunate female to fumble about over or waste an evening with your friends.  The one singular constant in your life that your father and you can talk about, without arguing, without smart ass comments, and without frustration is sports.  It is always there.  In this weird mysterious way it keeps you bound together and through these difficult self-searching years you can always talk about how your team is doing, or “Did you see that play?” or “Can you believe that game the other night?” It is there as a sanctuary in your moment of need when your pride does not allow you tell him how much you love him, and how much you admire him, and how much you appreciate him. It cuts through your self-indulged an isolative world and becomes a safe harbor, a mediator, and a compromise.

Sports is more than watching muscle bound athletes run around a field chasing a ball or throwing another one into a basket.  Sports offers us a place to communicate when communication fails.  They help to alleviate the pains and make everything feel familiar and normal in moments of horror and heart break such as September 11th.  Sports help men bond as friends because for some reason most of us are unable to do so in a normal fashion as women.  Sports give men the ability lose themselves in their imagination and take us back to a time when we were kids and thought of the world differently and thought that our heroes were impervious to the same sufferings as us.  It transports us to a time in life before the innocence of youth fades away and the horrors of the real world flood in.

I truly hope this answers the question adequately and thoroughly for both my wife and for the other partners who have asked this same question of their husbands.

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