Friday, December 29, 2023

Time Well Spent

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The dog days of August deliver a recurring swoon on the sports calendar.  The prior basketball and hockey seasons are trailing memories; the upcoming seasons remain months away.  Baseball’s playoff races are just starting to simmer.  Golf’s majors are done.  Tennis has nothing to turn heads.  Football is mostly about fantasy drafts, practice games and ridiculous predictions.  To steal a phrase used to describe crappy albums, it’s all filler with no killer.  I actually caught myself watching a pickleball match and a Canadian Football League (CFL) game a few weeks ago.  Nothing against pickleball or our pigskin hurling northern neighbors, but these were not proud moments.

Solace was found, as it often is for middle-age men, in a Taylor Swift song (epic sarcasm!).  The appropriately titled “August” was the song and its soothing chorus, “But I can see us lost in the memory, August slipped away into a moment in time.”  It did indeed, and with it – September!

Pickleball.  Canadian football.  Therapeutic Taylor Swift sing-alongs.  Yeah, maybe not my strongest opening to a “View.”  Whatever.  I know this is a safe space, one without judgment.  Nevertheless, with dignity evaporating, September’s arrival was a welcomed tonic.  And just two weeks in, September has exploded with real football, an itch for playoff baseball and an epic U.S. Open that officially marked the arrival of Coco Gauff to tennis’ center stage. 

Starting with football, perennial powers LSU, Clemson and Alabama already have losses.  As do the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.  Deion Sanders, a phenomenal source of fun and intrigue for college football, has backed up his bombast by leading Colorado to a 2-0 start.  For Washington football fans, it’s like spring has arrived, the windows in a cold, dank house have been opened and fresh air is pouring in.  In baseball, the Yankees and Red Sox are “battling” for last place, the Mets stink and the Orioles appear poised for a deep October run – gimme all of that, all the time.

As for Gauff, what’s to say?  She was brilliant in winning the U.S. Open and in realizing the promise she has flashed; Gauff now sits on the throne of women’s tennis. 

What if it was suggested that these on-field/on-court accomplished paled in comparison to the clarity, hope and power of what has happened off the fields of play?  Remove the question: that is the suggestion.

First and last: what I’m about to say does not diminish the athletic accomplishment of team or individual.  Scoreboards produce joy and anguish, they challenge, validate and build legacies.  But in the end, the scoreboard is just the result of a completed competition; it is merely an aspect of sports and, arguably, a supporting storyline to a more significant narrative. 

Hear me out. 

What precedes the kickoff of every NFL game?  The national anthem: a few moments to pause, breath and reflect on our nation’s history, the state of our fragile democracy, our shared cause, threats to our freedom and the amazing place Americans call home.  After games, players can be seen shaking hands, embracing, maybe even trading jerseys – all acknowledgements of a shared grind and an appreciation for the opportunity and elite competition.

As for Gauff, the incredibly simplistic reaction would be to laud her as the latest tennis phenom to validate the hype with a major championship victory.  That conclusion would neglect the more profound: poise and maturity far beyond her 19 years, the inspiration she attributes to trailblazers Serena and Venus Williams, and the instant-influence she has on young girls nationwide, be they tennis players or not.

This all to suggest that when consuming sports, keep one eye on the scoreboard and another on the magic that happens on the periphery of the competition itself.  After the joy of wins and the pain from losses fades, how sports bind, how they inspire, how they remind us of our shared human experience – this is the stuff that fascinates, that educates and informs, that makes us fans for life.  And, I’d argue, it’s why watching a pickleball match or a CFL game on a sleepy August night is time well spent. 

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