Jocks vs. Brains: can you be both a sports fan and a serious reader?

Jocks vs. Brains: can you be both a sports fan and a serious reader?

Today is Superbowl Sunday. People who don’t watch football the rest of the year will gather with friends to cheer on one team or the other…and watch the commercials and the half-time show. It’s a social time, and perhaps a social test. On Monday, if you don’t know what happened in the game, well, you may get some odd looks.

That got me thinking about what is seen as a classic dichotomy in high school: Jocks (athletes) versus Brains (intellectuals).

In a computer like binary system of one or the other, you weren’t going to define someone as both a Jock and a Brain (at least when I was in school, and I’d be surprised if it’s changed much). When your body is changing and  pumping mind-altering chemicals into your brain, dichotomies are simple. You are a this or a that…not both.

That’s not to say that everybody grows out of that, and it is different in different cultures. We see some people with the same either/or conceptions about people’s politics, lifestyles, and so on. No question, that’s easier. As Dr. Seuss did it so well, are you an East-going Zax or a West-going Zax? As soon as I see you take a step to the East, I don’t have to spend any more brainpower on that, which is efficient.

It’s far more complicated if you go both East and West sometimes.

I tend to see more mixes of elements in things…I have a harder time defining something as good or evil, for example, but often find that something has both effects (although not in a balanced manner).

I was definitely more on the Brain side, although I might have been considered more an eccentric than an academic. I could have always gotten good grades in every classroom subject, I think, but I didn’t always want to do that. I remember a classic situation for me in a math class. I quickly answered the questions correctly and turned in the exam. The teacher asked me to “show my work”, and I said that I hadn’t done any. I just knew what the answer was to that long division question…I didn’t go through some proscribed method of getting there.  The teacher wasn’t happy with that…

I had, at that time, what was undoubtedly a prejudice about “Jocks”. I tended to think of them as both unintelligent and exclusionary. If you couldn’t play a sport well, they laughed at you. Here’s another time I got in trouble. We were playing badminton, of all things, and I missed what might have been an easy shot for someone else. The coach said, “It happens to the best of us.” I replied, “…and it happens to the worst of us, too…but more often.” That comment was certainly considered to be smart alecky and inappropriate…despite being completely statistically accurate. ;)

However, were the Brains really more accepting? If someone had trouble understanding something we thought was obvious, weren’t we just as likely to make fun of that?

Oh, sure, there were people on both sides who got a pass…those with a defined condition that made it clear that they had a reason not to be as successful at something, but if that wasn’t the case, ridicule of incompetence (of whatever type) was not uncommon in high school.

I’ve grown, and I think matured, over time. I was always pretty accepting of those with different ideas, but I’ve also become accepting of those without as many ideas. :)

Now, back to sports fans and serious readers.

That’s a bit different from Jocks and Brains.

A sports fan is a fantatic; by definition, they are more enthusiastic about that sport than the average person.

A “serious reader” (although we read a lot for fun) is more into reading than the average person.

Can you be both?

Can someone enthusiastically follow a sports team, not missing a game, having everyone who knows them socially know who their team is, and, at the same time, be a serious reader?

I’d say, “Sure,” but there may be challenges.

Both following sports and reading take a lot of time. I recently wrote about people* who might do both things at once…read and watch a game on TV. I’m not sure a fanatic would do it that way, though, even with the capability. I think they’d be riveted on every second of the same, analyzing every expression and coach’s choice.

Remember, we are talking about fanatics, not someone who is average in how they follow the sport.

By the way, speaking of coach’s decisions, I do think football is arguably the most intellectual of the big sports (although baseball is a strong contender). I know it may be perceived by those who don’t know it well as just mountainously large people crashing into each other, but when I finally became interested in it as an adult, I was struck by how much of it is mentally-oriented. I mean, how often do you have an event where you stop every few seconds, have a meeting (huddle) and make a decision? It’s clearly those decisions which determine who wins, even though size helps. When people talk about the game on Monday morning, they aren’t “Monday morning linebackers”. They are “Monday morning quarterbacks”, and they are debating the decisions. They don’t say, “We would have won if we’d been bigger.” They say, “If they hadn’t gone for it on fourth down in the third quarter…” That’s about choice, not physicality.

So, perhaps the Brains have been selling the Jocks short. You need both to succeed in football. Do you need athleticism to be a serious reader? Um…maybe when we used to carry ten books home from the library. ;)

In summing this up, let me say as a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, “Go Niners!” That’s despite being a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, and even having satirized the poem (that’s right, poem) after which the opponents are named. Hadn’t occurred to you? Those football loving fans in Baltimore venerate one of the least-jockiest American figures, an American fantasy-writing poet. There’s hope for them after all… ;)

* Just wanted to mention that I’m pleased that, of the number of people expressing a preference for quiet or data-rich environments when reading, the latter one has come out to be about 15%…as I had suggested was the case in the post. I don’t mind being wrong much, but I do like being right ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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2 Responses to “Jocks vs. Brains: can you be both a sports fan and a serious reader?”

  1. Joe Bowers Says:

    Hi, Bufo,
    This post takes me back to my college days. I went to a small private liberal arts college in Illinois, (earned some scholarships, my family is not that affluent) and, although the school is well-regarded for its academics, there was quite an athletic tradition. It is kind of cliche, but there was clearly the attitude that sports and teamwork, etc., teach life lessons as well as how to develop one’s physicality. The “jocks” had to also be pretty darned smart and studious! (I myself was never particularly coordinated or physically gifted, but many of my friends and dorm-mates were on the teams, and I learned a lot from them.) Our football players learned a lot about adversity, because they seldom were victorious! So, I became a sports fan (more than I had been before) through seeing the games as struggles and journeys of human beings, as stories, if you will.
    Football is the only pro sport I still follow, the college games I find more interesting.
    Another good topic!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Joe!

      When I did eventually get involved in watching football, I found that the “key for the gate” was getting to know who the players were as individuals. Understanding that it was extraordinary when so and so did something that might not have been for somebody else…that humanized it for me. Learning the rules also helped. :)

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