The Unexamined Game Is Not Worth Watching

The stadium scene.
May 11 1997 3:30 AM

The Unexamined Game Is Not Worth Watching

Toward a philosophy of viewing sports on television.

(Continued from Page 3)

In preliminary tests with my own family, I determined that they have a long, long, long way to go before they are major-league sports fans. One Sunday I plunked my two oldest daughters in chairs directly in front of the set and channel-surfed from baseball to basketball to women's golf to figure skating. During the basketball game, my medium-sized daughter, who is not quite 4, said of Joe Dumars: "Is that a girl?" So the first thing we will do, with this particular daughter, is work on gender identification.

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Both daughters, meanwhile, have decided to become figure skaters when they grow up. You can see that this is drifting into a scary area: I might teach them to watch sports on television, but they might decide that "sports" includes massive doses of Brian Boitano and Oksana Baiul. My natural inclination is to watch figure skating quadrennially.

Mary, my wife, is simply a lost cause. She is an extremely discerning person who can detect the most subtle spice in a bowl of soup or a whisper of colored thread in a suit jacket, but for some reason she can stare at a basketball game on television and miss the important details, such as the ball going into the hoop.

"What just happened?" I demanded to know after Michael Jordan made a jump shot during a Chicago Bulls game.

"I don't know. I was still thinking about the last commercial," she said.

7. Don't pay attention to the commercials, thesqueakiness of the basketball court, the spitting in the dugout, the sweating, or fluids of any kind.

Once the techniques of viewing are mastered, there remains a major step: analysis. There is no point in watching if one is not really "seeing" anything. Sabol gave me a final tip that I will carry with me the rest of my years:

8. Prepare.

"You have to come into the game prepared. You have to come into watching the game with your own game plan," Sabol said. "What are you going to look for? What are the keys to the game?"

It's a rule from scouting: Be prepared. Think ahead. Anticipate problems and possible solutions. If you pick up the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you will see that one of the habits is "be pro-active." Do not wait for the ballgame on television to come to you. You can go to the ballgame, mentally, emotionally, pro-actively. You can be a better sports viewer than anyone on your block, anyone with your ZIP code.

Life is a competition. Be a champion.

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