Carson: Make a ‘new sport’ resolution
Alex Carson | Wednesday, September 24, 2014
The Hawthorn Hawks play the Sydney Swans on the grandest of stages this weekend in what can only be described as football’s biggest game.
That’s Australian rules football, of course. A sport that I remain utterly convinced Americans would love if ever properly introduced to it. But, unfortunately, the rights holders to the Australian Football League don’t find broadcasting the sport a priority, so everyone will continue to give me this weird look when I tell them about how entertaining the sport is.
But, fundamentally, the point of this isn’t to convince every reader to stay up for the 12:30 a.m. “first bounce” early Saturday morning between Australia’s two best teams — though if you have the desire to do so, know I will be right there with you. Rather, this is a suggestion, a plea, whatever you want to call it, to broaden your horizons as a sports fan. I’m calling on you this year to try to “pick up” a new sport. It could be a sport completely out of the American mainstream — say, the aforementioned Aussie rules, Canadian football or Irish hurling — or one that happens to be right on the edge of it like hockey (but don’t ask ESPN) or soccer.
Let’s take a look at soccer for a second. It happens to be a sport that America is finally starting to get a little better than halfway decent at. In back-to-back World Cups, the United States has advanced to the round of 16. And although a second successive exit at that stage was not what most Americans wanted, taking Belgium to extra time was a huge step forward for the program. At home, people paid attention. Nearly 25 million people tuned in to see the United States draw Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the group stage — and that doesn’t count the hordes of fans who watched at bars or community watch parties.
What does all that say? If you happen to be a sports fan — and I’m working under the assumption that you are because you’re still reading — odds are you tuned in to the United States’ matches at the World Cup. For the majority of American sports fans, soccer is the most accessible sport outside of the “big three” — football, basketball and baseball. Every weekend, there are at least five and sometimes six Premier League matches on television split between the NBC Sports Network and “big” NBC (This also happens to be the number of nationally-televised NFL games, mind you). Add to that the few MLS matches on each weekend and the Bundesliga’s deal with FOX to start its next campaign, and sports fans have a chance to take in plenty of America’s — and the world’s — best soccer.
But why bother taking the time? Premier League matches are played on weekend mornings, and Aussie rules matches are broadcast in the middle of the night, after all. Look around at the state of the American sports scene though. The biggest stories this year? They aren’t about the Arizona Cardinals’ surprise 3-0 start or the Orioles winning their first division crown in 17 years; rather, they’re about the NFL’s problems with domestic violence. It’s something that makes the MLS “fly by the seat of its pants” rulebook mentality a little more bearable.
And the other nice thing about a new sport? To a certain extent, you get to choose your team. I very much subscribe to the theory that holds you’re born into sports fandom — then again, I happen to be a Cleveland sports fan, and that’s the only rational reason for cheering on Cleveland teams. But when you pick up something new — especially if it’s something foreign — you’ve got a bit of choice. Granted, it doesn’t help me that I’m attracted to the same kinds of teams in my new endeavors — getting up to watch Aston Villa at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings can often be more frustrating than watching the Browns — but I had a choice.
Sports are what we make of them. And in an American sports scene where a lot tends to stay constant — the NFL remains top dog yet again — it’s nice to escape to somewhere else and try something new. I promise there’s a sport waiting out there for you to fall in love with.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.