Why I don't watch sports anymore ... but I will.

It pains me to write this, but I actually had to Google the Minnesota Vikings before starting this blog. I know they're heading to the playoffs, but I didn't know until googling that they were 13-3 this season -- and possibly Super Bowl favorites at home.

Those are sad words to write for a woman who just last year got purple leggings.

I have to be honest, though. My fandom has been waning since I left my full-time job covering sports in 2009. That fall the Minnesota Twins went to the playoffs, and I may have skipped an evening seminary class to watch them play at the bar, but I was probably more interested in my boneless wings than the score.

It's been a long, precipitous fall. I basically applied to colleges based on their performance in the 2002 NCAA Tournament, hoping I might have a chance to marry J.J. Redick. 

Duke, UNC, Mizzou, Marquette ... all made my list. I may have been able to apply to the Ivy League, but I told everyone I wanted to go to a "big-time sports college," where "football games are a big deal."

I went to Mizzou to study political journalism, and as they had for much of my life, sports dominated. 

I met my future husband playing pick-up basketball, and all of us had next, scheduling classes around making it to the Rec Center by 3 p.m. I didn't have a car, so I joined the sports beat for the local newspaper and ended up graduating to the larger local paper, flying to cover the Big 12 college basketball tournament in Dallas and the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis. 

Sportswriting was intoxicating. You could tell great stories about life with brevity; deadline was when the buzzer rang. So much of it was observation, so you could take liberties with "just the facts, ma'am." You had to sense the shifting winds of momentum and change your story accordingly. You had to get athletes and coaches to trust you. I interviewed billionaire MLB owners and commissioners, and I interviewed destitute farmworkers in Southwest Florida, raising their kids on the gridiron of spring and fall high school football, to try and follow the paths of NFL success stories from the same dilapidated small towns.

Sportswriting was fun, too. I saw Bruce Springsteen live while covering the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa. I criss-crossed the Southeast covering hockey. I rarely woke up before 10 a.m. I learned to play hockey myself for a story.

Then I became a Lutheran pastor, and a mom. My kids aren't the sort who will sit still - ever - and I found myself using any free moment to read "regular" news, write, or possibly sleep. I lost connection to the sports world. Occasionally I wrote about the intersection of sports and social issues or faith or women's issues. I covered Ray Rice's videotaped assault, explaining that Jesus stood with Janay. I wrote about the Kansas City Royals' miraculous playoff run, and I wrote about theology and sports for a theological journal. I also moderated a forum with two ESPN luminaries at my alma mater in May 2016, focusing on sports and social issues/domestic violence.

Maybe it was those stories that made me lose my fandom. Maybe it was gourmet sack lunches with team owners and managers at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., juxtaposed with the hard-knock backgrounds of many pro athletes, and the ways they were exploited for money by people with more money and more power. 

Maybe it was football brain injuries, and watching parents get cutthroat at Little League games. 

I don't know. But somewhere I stopped watching. Even when I was published in the Washington Post about the NFL kneeling protests, I found myself frustrated with the ways the narrative was being stolen. Kaepernick and fellow protesters had a greater cause in mind when they began their protests. They were trying to make the most of a large audience that would listen to the mouths and their brains instead of their bodies on the field. It was never about the flag or veterans or disrespect, but it became about that, and their voices were effectively silenced -- as the voices of many ex-players are silenced as their lives are torn apart by CTE.

The fun has left the building, maybe with the eradication of end zone dances and any chance at player personality in the NFL. 

So here it is, a month away from the biggest day in sports descending on my home town, potentially involving my hometown team -- and I haven't watched a single game.

I don't know if that's right or wrong. But it is sad.

It's sad because I still believe in sports, at root, as a great equalizer: a microcosm of the resurrection story of Jesus in their sweeping arcs of devastation and redemption. I believe in their empowerment: for little girls playing soccer in Africa, for men tearing it up in wheelchair basketball, for my dad as a senior playing pickleball, for me in introducing me to my husband, with whom I still play tennis for date night, and yes, who can still dunk after ACL surgery.

In light of that, here's my commitment. I'm going to watch the rest of the Vikings' games this season. I'm watching them not because I agree with the NFL's stance on everything, or because I want to line the pockets of already wealthy owners. I'm going to watch for the players: the ones who lay it on the line week in and week out, who team up and work with people whom they may not agree with or even like. I'm going to watch for Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers and Doug Baldwin and Chris Long and Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch and Case Keenum and Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr and Xavier Rhodes and Adam Thielen and yes for Colin Kaepernick.


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