The gym teacher sat across from me, looking stern and unimpressed. I had been fat the entire semester, which didn’t really jam with the subject he was teaching. And here I was, sitting fatly despite all of his best efforts. He asked me what grade I felt I should get. He pre-emptively gritted his teeth, already hating my reply.
I launched into what I thought was a fairly compelling speech detailing all of the reasons I should get exactly 75%. I showed up every class in gym attire and put in my best, awfulest effort into whatever fresh horrors he had devised for us. Despite obvious discomfort and a truly thrilling lack of ability, I showed up and did all of the things. The lifting, the running, the kicking, the hitting. Terribly and thoroughly greasy, but I did them.
Gym class was going to slash my average, but I felt I had earned a modicum of understanding for giving it all a go. I laid out my feelings for the gym teacher, who sighed and agreed. Gym class being mandatory only until grade nine, he knew this would be the last he’d ever see of me and the last time he’d ever have to hear me talking so fatly, so pathetically, about sports.
This is to say that sports have never been my bag. The entire time I was being forced to waddle my marshmallowy frame around the track, I was thinking about all of the books I could read, all of the music I could listen to, or all of the things I could simply not be running to. Also probably I was thinking about French fries. Running was to escape from terrors, like the variety of aggressive and unpleasant jocks in PE class, or for when someone passes you a soccer ball. It was not something for recreation, and certainly not an academic pursuit.
The allure of sports has always eluded me. I can understand them in a theoretical fashion, how the connection between team members working towards a common goal can enliven the spirit of each, how a greater whole amasses from the sum of the parts. I imagine they feel a little bit like I feel when I play a collaborative board game or enjoy a concert, except that their limbs are involved and they drink Gatorade after.
But being a massive physical failure with no sense of balance, weak arms, and asthmatic lung capacity means that I will never experience this sort of connection. Playing and winning these sorts of games is basically a bewildering dreamscape, and one that I’m not particularly interested in. Gym teachers seemed to believe that the magic of the game would be enough, that one day it would click in my brain and suddenly I would care.
More bewildering still is watching other people play sports. If I am not directly involved, I cannot fathom pinning any bit of my emotional well-being to the success or failure or a group of humans I have never met. The rise and fall, the surge of energy, the titillation of watching a thing go into a net or a hoop. All of it leaves me colder than a gym teacher’s heart when confronted with a doughy layabout who just wants to read and eat donuts.
And so here we are, in the midst of World Cup fever. Men hitting balls with their feet. Kick kick. Man jumps in front of ball. Other man falls on ground, clutching knee. Other other man also falls on ground, clutching foot. Foot Locker salesman holds up colour card. The grass is nice, I guess. Well-tended. Green-looking.
Screams emerge from the crowd. Passionate, soulful, committed screams. People blast vuvuzelas, or whatever other annoying analogue is available in Brazil. Human beings in the audience weep and whoop and actually totally kill each other over the men kicking the balls with their feet. Around the world crowds sit rapt, devout. Hushes fall, cheers roar, and a choral hymn of car horns call to the heavens.
How can one pass by this many people clasped together in prayer, connected to one another and breathing as one, and not want to try? How can you not see the warm glow of their hearts and not want to come inside from the cold?
I remember once still feeling I had to pretend, to put on airs. Total disconnect from sports was unmanly, unpatriotic, unthinkable. “I don’t really watch soccer,” I’d mealy-mouth, “but I still watch the World Cup.” And I’d put on a game or two in the background while I wrote essays or listened to music or ate chocolate or stared aimlessly into space. If being in the same room as a television playing soccer counted as being invested in the World Cup, then I definitely totally watched at least 2 games. Others would ask if I had seen Columbia totally crush Bosnia-Herzegovina or whatever, and I would say yeah, what an amazing game, because years of being a fat nerd has taught me to lie about my interests to make other people leave me alone faster.
But as another festival of European Kicky Kicky enthralls the planet, I feel as though I am old enough and man enough to speak truth. I feel like I can say this with a clear conscience, with the knowledge that I tried, and with the security that comes with no longer giving a crap what people think of me.
The truth is this: I really don’t give a shit about soccer.
Enjoy the World Cup I guess, if that’s a thing you can do. Just keep the honking to a minimum. I know that some people from Portugal did a thing thousands of kilometres away. I’m trying to read.