I am not done writing about the connection between big-money sports and rape culture on college campuses. Today, though, I would like to describe two experiences that highlighted for me the value of a shared activity that engages such huge numbers of people across geographical, cultural, and economic boundaries.
One Thanksgiving weekend before Ben was born, Bill and I were wandering around San Francisco, a city where we knew no one, when I was suddenly struck with lightheadedness and flu-like symptoms. Attempting to follow the directions of passersby, we set off in search of a pharmacy, and soon were lost in a very depressed part of the city. We stumbled into a combination drugstore-liquor store, where several tough-looking men were gathered near the counter passing around a bottle in a brown paper bag. They glared at us as we entered, and I felt hostile eyes on me as I tentatively edged toward a shelf of what looked like cold and flu remedies. They turned out to be some sort of magic spells that included curses you could put on your enemies. I started backing out of the store, trying to signal Bill to follow suit.
But there was an important football game on the radio. Bill asked the cashier what the score was, and suddenly all of the men were engaged in a lively debate about the value of one player over another, the reason why a certain coach didn't seem to recognize the futility of a play he kept repeating, and a number of other topics that didn't register with me, both because I was sick and because I wasn't issued the sports microchip. When Bill then explained that I had been taken ill, they couldn't have been more helpful or solicitous. Someone brought me a chair and a glass of water, with which I swallowed the actual flu remedy they provided me with. We left among wishes for my good health and invitations to drop by again soon.
I thought about this last week when we were in Barcelona. The Barcelona soccer team had an important away game one night, and because it dragged on until late, and Bill and I wanted to sleep, Ben, who is a huge FCBarcelona fan (we had toured Camp Nou the previous day), went to the hotel bar to watch it. It turned out to be a highlight of an overall wonderful trip. There were a few hotel guests in the bar, but the audience consisted mostly of the restaurant waiters and hotel desk staff. They pushed two long tables together in front of the TV and everyone sat together, sharing chips and cheers. The other fans switched from Catalan to Spanish so that Ben could join in the conversation. The team lost, but Ben had the time of his life.
The next morning, Ben's new friends greeted us as we came down to breakfast. The wait staff was always friendly, but there was a new level of connection and familiarity. It was lovely.
I can't think of another activity that draws people together this way. Can you?