Sports used to be my life. I was a baseball catcher, planning to go pro. Obsessed over it for four years in college. Failed at it for four years. Got all depressed. Started hating baseball. Hated sports. Sort of hated myself.
I probably should have seen a therapist.
Without baseball, however—without my failure—I never could have become what I am today. Through baseball and the failure I saw things I never could have otherwise.
Failure isn't a disease. It’s a symptom of something else. And my disease was fear.
When baseball and college ended, I decided that if my only reason for not doing something was fear, then I would try. Period.
It's worked. It's taken me a long way in a short time.
But I never would have gotten here, never would have learned courage and many other things, without sports. And that's only part of what sports can give.
* * *
I recently watched Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the Starz show. Who knows how accurate it is, but being a writer and thinker and learner, I found the "historical portrayal of ancient Roman society" riveting. So brutal, barbaric, animal-like. So awesomely epic.
Never has there been a time when one man was so beneath the heel of another. In one episode, a fourteen-year-old kid, son of the area magistrate, has the power to take the life of a fallen gladiator. The man was three times this boy's size. But the man is his master’s property, and so that makes him the child’s plaything, and as a result, the child has the power to kill a good friend and loving husband and future father.
One of the coolest scenes comes when Spartacus fights this terrifying, unbeatable beast of a man called Theocyles. Long in drought, the people of Capua believe that this could beckon the gods to send rain. Spartacus prevails after a brutal fight (epic!), and clouds roll over the sun and rain falls.
Below is a Spartacus music video someone made. The fight with Theocyles begins at 4:33, and the whole video will give you a good idea of why I love this show.*
This is what sports used to be. They’ve evolved a bit since. We have evolved. But at their core, sportsexist for the same basic reason: to entertain, to give people escape.
I’m not talking about the $8 beers and the $500 tickets and the over-the-top sensationalism and capitalism we see throughout sports. I’m talking about the fans who watch others do what they can only dream, and the athlete exploding through the lane and levitating, all grace and power and defiance of gravity, and the pitcher being perfect, time after time throwing something the best hitters in the world can’t hit.
Even in drought, the coliseum in Capua was filled with the masses.
We’ve had our own droughts. The Great Recession has left us all thirsty for something. We don’t call for rain anymore, but we call for something to take us away, if only for a moment. For many of us, that thing is a sport, whether we prefer to play or watch or both.
One of the most quotes I remember most from NCAA tournament hero Anthony Atkinson in The Edge of Legend is, “You talk about this recession. All businesses worry about that. But … when we were riding back into town after winning that championship, everyone ran outside, ran down the road. It was only a few minutes, but they were outside their business, not thinking about their business, just having fun. That’s what I’m about. I want to give people that escape.”
* * *
Cynics like to bash our craving for escape. Sports are often a favorite target. And to the cynics’ credit, they are sort of right. We have built a world of escape portals. Movies. Television. Internet. Smart phones. Shopping. Music. Bad, bad, the cynics say. Bad humans, not wanting to deal with their problems.
But we need these escapes, because life and sports are often the same. We need balance. In baseball, when I struggled hitting—which was often—I only made it worse by focusing on hitting. It sounds funny, I know. But I had to find some way to relax, to balance myself mentally, because hitting a baseball, like life, is hard enough without freaking out. Those rare few times I did relax, nobody could get me out.
The simple fact of life is that whatever we believe about escape, we all sometimes escape somewhere, somehow. What I've found is that there’s few better places for escape than sports. I've drank. Smoked. Watched TV. Gone to movies. Had sex. (Not all at once.) Sports are by far the second best.
I have listened to the cynics, and for a time agreed with them and probably even became one myself. But then I saw our error. We were seeing sport as something that defines, not something that enhances.
A sport isn’t a definition, nor is it a destination. Rather, it creates paths, byways to something better. Sometimes it’s as simple as brief escape, but often, it gives us something more. Even in Spartacus, beyond the blood and lust, it’s what drives the story. One character fights to repay debt to creditors. Another fights to earn enough in winnings to buy his freedom. Yet another fights to one day reunite with his wife.
Those four years of failure, and the bitterness and pain they brought—yeah, I was miserable living through it all. Without it, however, I don’t get to the life I have now.
* * *
I was reminded of all of this through the simplest of things.
My left eye’s been twitching for the past two weeks. Probably because I stare at a computer screen all day, every day. Some say such twitches are caused by stress. Whatever causes it, the twitching drives me crazy.
I went down to Wrightsville Beach to play pickup basketball on the outdoor court down there. It's usually windy and we play on concrete and the goals have quadruple rims and so yeah, sometimes it's not really ideal for basketball. But there are always a dozen or so of us that show up, and the other day, we played for two and a half hours.
Not once did I think about the twitch. I didn't even feel it.
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As always, thank you for your continued reading and support of BrandonSneed.com. A gift: Two more Spartacus music videos.
*(NOTE: If you decide to go watch it, I should also warn you that it’s got lots of sex in it. Like, way too much. Ridley Scott, the Gladiator director, once said of why he never has sex scenes in his films, "Sex is boring unless you're the one doing it." I'm with him on that. Consider yourself warned.)
[pic 1 via]