I don’t watch college sports much. Or any sports, really. I spent the bulk of high school alternately railing against and scoffing at meathead jock types. Sure, there were a few intelligent, well-rounded sporty types, but we didn’t talk much in class (and NEVER outside of class), so I considered them outliers. Rob Lyons, Renee Pomaville, and Marybeth Knoth were always people I admired. I think it’s pretty awesome that each of them have much “brainier” jobs than I do now. I’d love to meet up with them.
Even though I went to a school in the Big 10, I never attended a football game. I didn’t go to any basketball games either (although that was mainly because I didn’t want to camp outside the Breslin Center to enter the student ticket lottery). The bulk of my animosity toward college sports began to fade, but I definitely wouldn’t call myself a sports fan.
But after college I realized that sports give us a large-scale way to stay connected that, like it or not, we can’t necessarily get from our college academic pursuits.
Look at my Twitter feed after last night’s Michigan State game. The tweets are written by, from top to bottom, a former SNewser who I never even worked with, former SNewser now at the Indy Star, former SNewser now at MLive, former SNewser who left a paper where she was treated like dirt to become a professional superstar, former SNewser who was more of a friend-of-a-friend, and one of my top three favorite MSU professors / physics mastermind. I’m sort of in touch with these people, yes, but there’s an emotional connection I feel with them after big college news like this is announced. EVEN IF I don’t talk with them right after seeing their post. EVEN IF I didn’t even watch the game.
Jane McGonigal would call this fiero, I guess. A more cynical person might call this mob mentality. I think it’s just another reminder that our choices define not only the path we take in life, but also who will be a part of our community.
When I chose to go to Michigan State, I knew I’d be a part of an enormous community, which was thrilling to me. I didn’t want to be a big fish in a little pond. But I also knew I wanted to be near lots of like-minded nerds, so I joined the Honors College and lived on an Honors floor.
My closest MSU friends happened to be in the Honors College too, but I love that on any given day in downtown Seattle I can shout “GO GREEN” and almost always someone knows how to respond. I wouldn’t be able to have that same connection if I said, “YO, Who got that last e-mail from Bess German talking about alumni events???” Cheering for sports has given us this common language, right? Sure, there were plenty of people who, in my view, may have squandered the academic portion of their college days, but for the most part, we know MSU is so much more than a basketball team or a football game.
I guess our school becoming an AVID elementary has got me thinking about college a bit more than usual. We had our first college day last week, and at first I was more than a bit miffed that many students’ college apparel celebrated the sports teams, not the academic programs, associated with the different schools.
Back in first grade, when I was mocked for wearing a MSU sweatshirt rather than a shirt from football powerhouse U of M, I protested, “Of COURSE I’m wearing MSU.” (I imagine you can hear the shrill tone my voice achieved as it reached into the stratosphere) “My Dad is a POLICE OFFICER, why would he go to U of M if MSU has the best POLICE program in the country???”
I’d like to think our kids, especially those who come from families where college isn’t a part of their legacy, understand that the sports spectacle is distinctly different from the learning that happens at college. But the truth remains that when you don’t have time to wax philosophical, the most effective way to express that belonging is with a battle cry or a round of the fight song.
Back to football. If you want to see the big play that everyone’s freaking out about, you can watch it here. But I think you should watch the video that I posted earlier in the season, which shows MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins is an absolute class act.
So I’m not going to start watching any football games (although I might catch a basketball championship game or two). I remain skeptical of the messages families send their students when they put together elaborate tailgate extravaganzas. But I’m definitely proud to be a Spartan.