Playing Left Field



Originally appeared in Ethiopian Review, July 1992
Under the pen name Abiye Solomon
I am one of those guys who has never really been into sports. I used to Like soccer and I played and watched a lot of it in my younger days in Ethiopia. There really was not much to do when I was growing up except play soccer. No television, Nintendo or even movies.
Having lived in America for so long, I have yet to develop a taste, (for many a mania) for sports. I have a lot of reasons for actually disliking sports. Take for instance football American style. First, it should have been called handball. It is a game played principally by carrying the ball in ones hand and running in the direction of the opposing side. I am told it is a game of skill but to me it appears like freight trains colliding with each other. It is a game for really huge people, abnormally huge. I sometimes wonder if the real object of the game is not to see huge men bust each other’s body on the field for the perverse pleasure of the viewing public. Anyway, I just don’t understand it.
Basketball is supposed to be a game of universal appeal. The object of the
game is to place the ball in a hoop while the opposing side is trying to take
the ball away and a raucous audience barks out encouragement and strategy. “Defense!” the crowd shouts. The view must be better from the sidelines. Well, basketball is not a game for me. It is for extraordinarily tall people, abnormally tall. I suppose one has to have the height to play the game right.
Boxing! I am not really sure why they call this a sport. I suppose if they did not they would have to call it mayhem. I can’t understand how two people beating each other senseless and sometimes unconscious can be called a sport. The aim of the sport seems to be the infliction of maximum physical damage on other, preferably knock the opponent into unconsciousness. For this act of “sportsmanship,” the winning brute is proclaimed “Champion.” I think this “Champion” belongs in the zoo or somewhere else where he will not threaten civilized life.
Hockey is another sport I just can’t understand. You glide on ice knocking a small round, flat object in an oval rink. But the chase is secondary to the “brawl on ice.” The hockey players assault each other to the uproarious approval of the audience. “Get him! Let him have it! Punch him out!” What a sport!
Baseball! They should have called it boredom. You sit out there in the sun for hours waiting for one guy to hit the ball outside the ball park. That does not happen a lot, may be a few times in an entire afternoon. The rest of the time you sit there eating hot dogs and drinking beer and watching men on the field who seem to have problems keeping anything in their mouths. That’s one thing I could never understand about baseball players chewing tobacco and spitting it out all day. May be they should have spitting contests instead of baseball games.
Then there is the rich person’s sport: Golf. Just to play golf you need an investment capital of $1,000 for striking clubs (not including country club dues which may run several thousands more), cleated shoes, ball and God know what else. But this is a rather funny sport. You strike the ball and then chase it in a motorized golf cart (you can walk, but why bother?). Oh, yes! you’ll need a caddie (some guy who lugs your golf clubs around) for this sport!
Running. Now that is a real sport. You just run, and if you outrun everyone, then you win. I kind of like this one. It is a sport of individual endurance and speed. One does not have to be huge, tall, brutal or even wield a stick. It is the right sport for small size guys like me. All you need is a good set of legs and a strong heart. (Stay away from smoking, alcohol and fatty foods and you have the makings of a good runner.)
I like soccer. But it has been years since I say one live, perhaps even on TV. It is not a popular game in America. It does nor require brute force, height or thirst for blood. It is a game for small guys like me. You have to be nimble and quick and develop skills to control the ball. Soccer has its own problem. Its aficionados sometimes seem to be unable to control themselves. They fight and kill each other because one team scored more than the other. This does not make sense to me. I have heard two central American countries once went to war over a soccer game.
There are of course many other sports I can’t even begin to understand. The “sport of hunting.” You go out and shoot defensless animals and that is a sport? Motor sport. You drive a fast car around a circle and that is sport? What about the sport of mountain climbing? Hmmm!
May be I am just playing left field. May be I am not even on the field at all. But the sports that many people seem to enjoy seem to me to be strangely cruel.
Well, what of the Olympics? I suppose as an international sports evet has great significance. I often wonder however how “sporting” the Olympics really are. I mean take the athletes from Africa, for instance. Many of them have no support as they prepare for the games — no gyms, trained coaches, exercise equipment, proper diets, and so on. Then they compete against the best trained and supported athletes of the West and generally lose. Is that a fair game? Well I wish them all a sporting chance this time around!