By Alan Resnick
It all happened so suddenly. My wife and I were having dinner last week and she asked me: “Do you miss sports on TV?” I immediately blurted out: “No, not really.” And now I’m feeling a little sheepish and slightly unpatriotic about admitting this in such a public forum, especially after reading the recent beautiful essays by Bruce Shlain and Amy Lennard Goehner in this publication on the importance of sports in their lives and in the broader American society. But, upon deeper reflection, it remains my feeling that I’ll survive and find other things to occupy my time.
I grew up loving sports and actually have some pretty solid bona fides as both a fan and an athlete. My prized possession as a kid was a Detroit Tigers uniform with Al Kaline’s number 6 on the back. This was not one of the modern polyester uniforms; mine was made of wool, and I’d begin to sweat immediately as soon as I put it on. And it usually left me with rashes. But I loved that thing.
My father took me to my first Tiger game when I was six years old. We were playing the New York Yankees. Tiger Stadium was constructed in such a way that all you could see was foul territory when walking though the main concourses underneath the stands. But when you began walking up the corridor to your seating area, the field would emerge, and it was absolutely stunning, a sea of emerald green with a giant scoreboard in the background. Our seats were located along the first base line, a little past the Yankee dugout. The usher seated us, and I looked up and saw Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra, Hall of Famers all, standing at the rail chatting and laughing. Not a bad first game at all.
I was there when Mark “The Bird” Fidrych pitched against the Yankees on June 28, 1976, a game broadcast on ABC’s “Monday Night Baseball.” That game remains the most electric atmosphere that I have ever experienced. I was at the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day game on November 25, 1976, when O.J. Simpson set the then single game rushing record of 273 yards. And I was in the stands on Sunday, October 24, 1971, the day that Chuck Hughes, a receiver for the Detroit Lions, died on the football field in a game against the Chicago Bears. I can still visualize Dick Butkus, the terrifying middle linebacker for the Bears, frantically waving for medical support to come onto to the field as he stood over the fallen Hughes.
I would watch any sporting event on television growing up. It didn’t matter who was playing, home team or not. I wanted to see it. And my interest wasn’t limited to baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. Back in the day, the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) used to broadcast sports such as curling and snooker on Saturday afternoons. Some would label these arcane, but they were absolutely must-see TV for me.
Baseball was my game of choice to play. I was a dead fastball hitter, and I could rake, if I do say so myself. In fact, Reno Bertoia, a former third baseman for the Tigers who became a scout for them, came out to watch me play one evening. (Truth be told, he was actually there to scout the pitcher on the other team, but my coach walked over to him and asked him to take a look at me, so it counts in my book.) My hardball career ended when my peers learned to throw the curveball, and I went on to play softball for another ten years.
So, I’m a fan, but not a true fanatic. Fantasy sports hold no interest for me, nor does sports trivia. Frankly, I could not care less about the player on the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics World Series team with an undescended testicle who had a root canal before Game 3 and hit a triple in the sixth inning. Part of my current indifference is that I simply don’t consume sports in person or on television like I did when I was younger. I go to a couple of baseball games a year, haven’t attended a football or basketball game in a few years, and last attended a hockey game several years ago. And that was more out of curiosity about the new arena than the game itself. Going to a game is expensive, and my backside begins to ache by the sixth inning or halftime; on the other hand, watching on television provides great viewing angles and, if something spills on me, it’s my own fault,
A second reason for my apathy is that my home teams are miserable. The Tigers and Lions both finished last in their divisions in 2019, and the Red Wings had the worst record in all the NHL at the time the current season was suspended. Relatively speaking, the Pistons are the crown jewel of the local sports teams, in that they were one game out of last place in their division when the NBA shut down. So, I don’t watch much regular season action, and only turn into the playoffs as they move toward the finals.
I’m struggling mightily with the idea of watching sports in empty arenas, golf courses, or tennis courts. I understand the economics and the athletes’ desire to compete, but so much of the thrill of watching a sporting event is the atmosphere, the cheering, the booing, the chants, and the groans of anguish. I’d much prefer listening to a baseball game announced by Mel Allen, Ernie Harwell, Harry Caray, or Vin Scully to watching a game with no crowd.
And I worry about the health of the athletes and the support staff needed to produce and broadcast an event. Of the four major sports, baseball seems to be the one that poses the least health risk, especially since the Tigers get so few men on base. I just don’t see how basketball, hockey, and particularly football can be played in the midst of the pandemic, even with no fans. And, if the sport has to suspend action again when athletes test positive--and I believe that is a when, not an if--it will be for much longer.
If pressed, I would say that the Masters is the one sporting event that I’ve truly missed so far. There is something about the beauty of the course, the tradition, and the overall stodginess that I look forward to every year. But another large part of why I enjoy the Masters is that I used to watch it with my daughter and now, since we reside in different states, we text back and forth with each other during the broadcast. I miss that interaction as much as the golf itself.
Maybe I’m in denial or just fooling myself about how much I miss sports. Or perhaps the time away from sports has resulted in a form of withdrawal. I do know that I did not relapse yesterday when the skins game charity golf even was broadcast on TV. I worked on a jigsaw puzzle instead.
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.