Last month, I was taking a cab to the Harrisburg airport when the driver turned to me and said something about the Eagles-Redskins game that Washington had just lost. I was feeling good, feeling confident, feeling, moreover, that what I really wanted to do was read the paper. So I told the driver that he had the misfortune of having in his cab the only person in all of Washington who did not care about the Redskins. No kidding, he said. He didn't care about the Eagles, either.
For me, that moment was what is known in religion as an epiphany and in psychology as a catharis. Whatever you call it, it has taken me most of my life to admit to others what I once even had a hard time admitting to myself: I am not a sports fan.
Once I was -- and desperately so. I lived only for the Brookly Dodgers who, in a lesson that steeled me for life, rewarded my passion by walking out. Maybe this is why I am not a sports fan.
The trouble with that explanation is that it presumes that to be a fan is normal and not to be a fan is not. The newly assertive me rejects that, although for many years I hid my disinterest in sports. I thought I ought to be something other than what I am -- an occasional, take it or leave it, viewer of games. I thought I should be a real fan -- a baseball fan for sure, a football fan probably but, best of all, a fan of a really dumb sport like basketball in which nothing usually matters until the last two minutes of play.
It is professional football, though, that is the bane of my existence. I never knew much about it, and now it's impossible to catch up. I turn on the set to discover there is a whole new position called nose guard that everyone but me seems to know about. I can only thank God I was not a soldier in one of those old World War II movies who returns tohis lines and whose identity is challenged by his own men: "Who plays nose guard for the Skins?" Nose guard?? Bang! Bang! Bang!
I first realized I was different when I worked in New York as an insurance investigator. Every Monday morning in the proper season, my colleagues would talk nothing but football. Occasionally, just to keep my citizenship, I would toss them a memorized clich,e: The Giants had momentum. Gifford had slowed up a step. The Giants didn't like to hit or they liked to hit or, worse yet and totally inexplicably, they liked to get hit. (What kind of people were they?)
Years later, I listened as none other than Roone Arledge, the president of ABC sports, talked football for about five minutes, never once resorting to English and clearly accepting me as a fellow fan. I knew then I could pass.
After a while, I realized that men just assume all other men are sports fans. You're a man, you're a fan. They never ask if you follow the game, but just launch into a discussion of the abilities of some player you never heard of. They think being a fan is a sex- linked trait like facial hair.
I thought there must be a way for us nonfans to identify one another. Maybe we could wear just one earring. A little tricky, I know, but if it's worn on the proper side no one will get the wrong message. I thought maybe a button would do the trick: "Kafka Didn't Play Nose Guard." And then I thought I would just come out of the closet, declare myself to one and all. I am not a fan.
And so this is what I did in that cab. There we were, face to back of head, two of the most honest guys who ever lived. I declared, and then he declared, and then we had absolutely nothing to say to one another. It was then that I discovered the use of sports. It gives men something to talk to about. I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back in smug, masculine satisfaction. Weak men talk sports.
Real men don't talk at all.