Why I stopped being a sports fan.
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Several months ago, I gave up sports. I hadn't planned to go cold turkey, so I didn't note the exact day I quit. One morning—it must have been in June—I picked up the paper and didn't feel like reading the sports section. So I didn't, that day or any day since. Around the same time, I stopped watching live sporting events on TV, catching highlights on ESPN, and checking for the latest sports news on the Web. I abandoned, midseason, two promising fantasy baseball teams in two very competitive leagues. Though I'd visited all but three of Major League Baseball's stadiums over the previous five seasons, I didn't attend a single ballgame in 2009. I haven't seen so much as a quarter of an NBA game this season. Somewhat to my surprise, I don't miss any of it.
At the most basic level, I stopped following sports because being a sports fan took too much time. In recent years, I had followed the Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, and to a lesser degree, the New England Patriots. During NASCAR's long February-to-November season, I also kept tabs on my favorite driver, the irascible Tony Stewart. There were thus few weeks in the calendar year when there wasn't a game to watch, a race to follow, or a hot-stove rumor to chase down. On an average weekend, I might devote three hours to a football game, another four to stock cars, and at least a couple of hours to ESPN.com, Deadspin, various newspaper sports sections, and a handful of fantasy advice sites. (Thank you, belatedly, Closer Watch Report.) Watching sports and consuming news about my favorite teams had come to occupy the majority of my leisure time.
Not all that long ago, the media diet of even the most dedicated fan was far less rich. Before cable, satellite, and the Web, you could follow the home team on local TV and radio; if you missed the game, you could read about it in the paper the next morning. To keep up with the rest of the sports world, you subscribed to Sports Illustrated or the Sporting News and watched whatever games made the network broadcasts. If you weren't interested in spending Sunday afternoon watching Sidney Moncrief's Bucks take on Mo Cheeks' 'Sixers, well, you could clean the garage.
Please don't mistake me for some fuddy-duddy who longs for the days of reading box scores by the wood-burning stove. One of my happiest sports memories is of listening to Anibal Sanchez's 2006 no-hitter on satellite radio while sending gloating text messages to other owners in my fantasy league. (I'd picked up Sanchez after reading about his minor league résumé on the Sons of Sam Horn message board.) But these new ways of following sports have made it easier for a casual fan to slip into Big Fan territory. There was a time when I'd catch a game here and there, watch SportsCenter a few nights a week, and really start paying attention come playoff time. I woke up one day not long ago (to a clock radio blaring WFAN) and found that I had a Google alert for "Kevin Garnett knee," a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, and a genuine interest in the Twitter updates of Juan Pablo Montoya.
For all the ways in which new media have changed how we follow our favorite teams, sports remain mired in the past in one basic way: You pretty much have to watch them live. Sure, you can record a Sunday afternoon football game and watch it the next day, but the final score is harder to avoid than the twist in last night's episode of Mad Men. Glimpse the back page of the local tabloid, and the game is spoiled. Even if your self-imposed media blackout does succeed, watching a day-old ballgame is like doing yesterday's crossword. It just doesn't have the same crackle. At the same time, other entertainment options are becoming easier to fit into my schedule. If I'm not in the mood for the TV shows I've DVR'd, I can always stream a movie on Netflix.