There are some things I’m hesitant to discuss with people I’ve just met — religion and politics are probably near the top of the list.
People tend to have very strongly held views on those topics, and until you get to know them, you run the risk of getting into an argument over some casual remark that wasn’t intended to offend. When people whom I’ve just met bring those topics up, I try to listen politely and move on to another topic, usually with a Forrest Gump response — something factual but noncommittal, followed with “and that’s all I have to say about that.”
After this summer, I think I’m ready to put sports on that list, too.
I’ll admit, I used to be a passionate sports fan. I could recite stats and debate starting lineups with the best of them. Of course, at that time, let’s just say there weren’t a lot of championship parades going on where I grew up, and most of my sports arguments ended that way, too. It’s pretty hard to come up with a rebuttal when the team on the other side of the debate has a championship ring.
While I still follow sports, over the past few years I have become a much more casual fan. It’s a fun diversion, but a topic I no longer lose sleep over (except maybe when my team is in the World Series).
Anyway, this past summer, my wife and I spent a few days at a lodge in Maine to do some mountain biking. I had a blast, but there was a point one evening where the chit chat with other guests turned from topics I am comfortable with — careers, raising kids, mountain biking adventures and getting older — to sports. And then it got downright uncomfortable when the topic of sports intersected with politics.
Apparently, there are some East Coast states where mercy rules for high school football have been taken to extremes, and coaches are suspended for exceeding certain point totals and point differentials. Now, I never played organized football, but I did play soccer and run track through college. I also coached a high school soccer team for a few seasons, and I have been on both sides of a lopsided game. To be honest, neither side is a whole lot of fun, but I’ve always felt that taking your lumps is one of those things that builds character. And over my athletic career, I’d say I built a lot of character.
Anyway, let’s just say the debate was passionate but unmoderated, and some of the participants had very strong personalities. Making it more interesting — and from my perspective, uncomfortable — was that one of the participants had played in the NFL, but only a few people in the room knew it. It was, as the kids say, awkward. I pointed out that when I covered sports, I was glad to see Alaska use a running clock in the second half when games got out of hand — but that’s all I had to say about that.
After what felt like forever, and with the debate still going strong, I yawned, stretched and headed off to bed. Fortunately, the discussion didn’t carry over to the next day, and we talked about the virtues of bacon and maple syrup over breakfast. We all whole-heartedly endorsed those things as delicious.
However, as an Alaskan, there are certain questions that are bound to come up when you travel, and I will say this about the intense debate on high school football: it made the inquiries that we got regarding Sarah Palin look pretty tame — and that’s all I have to say about that.
Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.