The VICE Guide to Sports
You either give a shit about sports or you don’t, and the delineation between these two types of people is usually pretty clear. Just so we’re all on the same page: Hosting a Super Bowl party or casually rooting for your hometown team is not the same thing as actual fandom. Real fans check sports sites (used to be the sports page) constantly, buy jerseys, talk back at talk radio, experience for-real emotions when their team loses or wins big, and WILL kick your ass if you make fun of their favorite player for long enough.
If you don’t “get” sports, extreme fandom seems like a psychological disorder—like, why are you so happy and jumping up and down and screaming because some guy hit a ball? And if you are a fan, you respond to these questions with a response like “YOU DON’T GET IT, PUSSY! THAT MAN WHO JUST HIT THE BALL GOT US INTO THE PLAYOFFS AND HE IS GREAT LIKE GHANDI, AND OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO CREAM MY FUCKING PANTS RAHHHHHHHHHHH!”
As a service to the world and in an attempt to prove that, like laughter, athletics can serve as a universal language, we’ve written a handy guide that, with any luck, will help bridge the gap between these two groups, like the great relationship Bill Clinton fostered between the Israelis and the Palestinians. (A fair comparison, because fans and non-fans are two groups who will never, ever understand each other. For now we’ll just make fun of both.)
Plenty of fans use “we” when referring to a team: “We played well Tuesday; we really fore-checked that midget into the board with disdain; we saved money signing this rich asshole for slightly less money than the other asshole who wasn’t as rich.” Don’t do this unless you: 1) work for the organization; 2) are semi-regularly making love to someone on the team; or 3) are on the team. We understand that you like yours a ton and watch every single game intently and are convinced you would be a good GM, but when the Islanders leave your stupid town for another equally moronic but more profitable shithole, you’ll be cursing yourself for imagining a bunch of stupid strangers actually had a stake in your sad little walled-in life. They won the game. You sat on the couch and ate Wild White Nacho Doritos and tried half-heartedly to masturbate to the annoying lady in the insurance commercial.
“Now, son, I have some bad news for you: You’re a Mets fan. There’s just no two ways about it. See, I’m a Mets fan, my father was a Mets fan, and just like my alcoholism and my crippling inability to discuss my feelings, I’m passing my fandom down to you. I’ll take you to Mets games, school you in Mets history—we were really good in the 80s, when the players were doing a lot of good coke—show you my VHS tapes of games I recorded, and force you to play little league so you understand the game. Even if you try to reject your fandom, some of it will stay with you, so that one day you’ll be in an airport bar, see the highlights of yet another Mets loss on ESPN4, and curse the Lord Jesus Christ under your breath. Sorry. I am aware this makes no sense, but you are definitely going to have to live this way.”
MERCHANDISE AND LICENSING
Lots of male sports fans wear jerseys, because wearing an expensive, garishly-colored baggy shirt that chafes your nipples is always in style and it goes with anything because, really, it goes with nothing. More recently, teams have started to market to female fans, offering them jerseys designed for people with boobs, and whore-iffic stuff like NBA-branded heels. You can wear this stuff if you are at a sporting venue because all kinds of rude behavior is tolerated at those places, including painting your fat, shirtless body in team colors and yelling stuff about wanting to fuck LeBron’s mom. If you’re not watching a game in person, here are the acceptable items of team-branded clothing you can wear: 1) baseball cap.
ESPN is nice if you want to avoid eye contact with everyone at the bar, but have you ever watched ESPNews until it cycles all the way through the stories of the day and starts repeating itself? It’s horrible, like jerking off right after you ate a pulled-pork sandwich and having to clean the disgusting mess of barbeque sauce and semen off yourself while muttering, “Jesus Christ man, I’ve got to get it together.”
In our society, athletes are avatars of youth, discipline, sexuality, nobility, and strength. They are also incredibly boring. There are maybe five athletes in sports who have engaging personalities, mostly due to psychological issues from being hit on the head very hard one too many times. Most athletes are super boring since they’ve been going to tournaments and scouting combines and camps since childhood and never got the free time to get into cool shit like pottery or hardcore. (Ricky Williams is considered a renaissance man for an athlete because he’s into Bob Marley and weed.) The other reason athletes are boring is if they actually express what’s going on inside their heads with words (“That was an awesome dunk I did, I don’t care that we lost because I make a lot of money either way, and now I am going to go get high as shit and have sex with a woman with a giant butt.”) the press yells at them and they have to apologize. That doesn’t mean they’re not smart; all athletes at the pro level know intrinsically more about the sport they’re playing than the entire press box; even if they can barely express themselves, they can be geniuses and do amazing and creative stuff on the field. That is, of course, if you believe that bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is a real thing.
Go to as many as you can, whenever you have tickets, and try and see at least one real sport live in your lifetime. They are all awesome forms of entertainment. The NFL offers the shittiest live product out of the big four US sports, but tailgating is awesome—it’s a sausage fest in more ways than one, and it’s totally acceptable to be too drunk to stand up. Hockey is 1,000 times better live. Basketball is good on TV as well as live, but in person you get to see how tall the players are and that is actually pretty entertaining. Baseball is great because you don’t have to pay attention and you can just fry in the sun while sipping a Bud. Too bad the price of tickets keeps going up and you can’t afford to actually attend any of these events, huh?
Almost anyone who still has a column about sports for a newspaper (hahaahahahaha, newspapers!) writes boring garbage. This is because of the system that they came up in: They started out as beat reporters who had to interview athletes who hated them and gave the same canned answers (“It was a good game, we’re going to just take it a day at a time and improve.”) and wrote the same game summaries (“Indians lose, again”) over and over again, until after a while they landed the highly-prized “sports columnist” gig because the old columnist died of alcoholism from too much brown liquor. Secure in their job and worn out from covering one of the most soul-crushing beats in journalism, these columnists inevitably stop caring and churn out the same tired bullshit that has been churned out since ancient Olympic discus throwers were called out for not having enough “heart” by scribes. To pick an example at random, here’s the LA Times’s Bill Plaschke doing the “he ain’t got that fire in the belly” column about Michael Phelps just before the golden boy went on a tear and won a bunch of races. For another example, see Rick Reilly, who used to be a great journalist and now just recycles material from Jokes 4 Kidz Vol. 14. The fact that these guys are being replaced by bloggers who give a shit and know the sports they write about is reason enough to cheer the ink-on-dead-trees industry’s demise.
Not a crime, also not a sport. This applies to anything else done on boards.
It’s sort of sad that we used to fantasize about being professional athletes and now we fantasize about being professional general managers. Playing fantasy sports is a lot like having another job, only you don’t get paid—though it is sort of fun, in the sense of “having a vested interest in Jacksonville’s third-string running back” is fun. You know what’s not fun? Telling other people about how your fantasy team is doing. Even though you find it excited that you won from a last-second touchdown from Drew Brees to Reggie Bush, putting your team, the 69ers (LOL!), in the playoffs, is not exciting anyone else on the planet. Playing fantasy sports should be like masturbating—a vaguely shameful activity that you don’t tell anyone about, but everyone knows you do it.
A lot of people talk about the good that sports do for society: the self-esteem and values that are fostered by youth athletics, how Jackie Robinson integrating into the Major Leagues was awesome, how many women have been pleasured by Michael Jordan’s penis, blah blah blah. But if you are going to talk about how great sports are, you should at least mention the relentless culture of homophobia in locker rooms. There have been zero examples of openly gay professional athletes in America, but at least one example of a guy feeling comfortable saying he hates faggots publicly. In San Francisco. C’mon, guys. Not cool. (There’s also lots of racism in sports, but you already know that, don’t you, smartass?)
By this we mostly mean soccer. But Europeans are also way more into track and field events than Americans. Sometimes ignorant Americans are like, “They don’t use their hands so it’s not a sport! They—oh, snap, is that a bowl of ranch dressing? Let me get in on that!” This is dumb because out-of-work families from Ypsilanti who have been haplessly rooting for the Lions for 50 years have a lot in common with out-of-work families from Sheffield who have been rooting for whatever their weird team is for 250 years. “Football” might mean different things to Europeans and Americans, but “football fans” are always the same—quietly angry concrete blocks of manhood who look like they’ve walked out of a Bruce Springsteen (or Billy Bragg) song.
Every four years (or two if you count the Winter Olympics), the Olympics reminds us that there are a whole bunch of sports that aren’t shown on ESPN all the time. Ones you never, ever think about if you are a decadent Westerner: that thing that’s like volleyball but you use your feet, that thing that’s polo only with a dead goat, and Cricket, which no one actually knows how to play except Indian dudes. These are sometimes fun to watch when you are hungover (except for the dead goat one), but without the emotional content and rooting interest, these sports just seem like an odd ritual you don’t quite understand. Meanwhile, in Thailand, a million people are watching Sepak Takraw and going, “OH SHIT DID YOU SEE WHAT SUEBSAK PHUNSUED JUST DID?”
Sorry, you guys are in the minority. Maybe you think sports are just for meatheads and you’d rather go to the ballet or a poetry reading (with your boyfriend, right, you pussy? Sorry, sorry, we really do have to deal with homophobia in sports) than watch a game. That’s fine, but most people like sports enough to cheer for the home team and go nuts when something important happens, like a World Series win. Mock and disdain jocks all you like, but if the Indians win the World Series and there are parades and old men crying tears of joy and people celebrating in the streets, you’re just going to have to deal with that inconvenience. If you say something like, “Oh, why are you so happy? Did the millionaires do something good with the ball?” you are just being an asshole. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat are real things. That said, you are correct when you say, “If all sports statisticians quit studying fucking silly games and instead focused on our global economic woes, the world would probably be a better place.” But guess what? It ain’t changing, so you’re just going to have to deal with it.
Watching sports as an adult involves a complicit understanding of and acquiescence to boredom. There is a game every day, and every day sports fans watch that game instead of doing something else—this includes reading a book, watering a garden, or watching The Wire again. Sometimes something transcendental happens, like a guy hits the ball real hard at the right time. More often, something merely cool happens, like Javale McGee. Sometimes, the game you’re watching turns out to be the most forgettable 8-3 snooze fest the Mariners and Blue Jays have ever played. But that’s true about everything in life: It’s not the greatest all the time. But it’s still sometimes the greatest, and that’s pretty fucking good.
The world of sports isn't the only thing we've crammed into a handy guide: