Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why I love Sports

So…you wanna know why I love sports?

            Just as a disclaimer, this post is NOT intended to be funny, and is probably more of a rant/explanation than anything. But I get asked all the time (mostly when I’m deep in conversation with someone about who BYU is recruiting or what the Jazz need to do to make the playoffs) why I care so much about sports. And I certainly do love my sports, especially football and basketball. But this question frustrates me to no end! Well, from now on, instead of getting into a fruitless argument with people who ask me this, I’m just going to post this entry to my blog and make up some business cards with the link on printed them, and give them out whenever I get asked.
Okay, so there are probably hundreds of reasons to love sports like I do. And I fully intend to cover each and every one of them in this post (not really, but I will cover a few). But first and foremost,

 Why does anybody care about anything!!!

            This is the most frustrating thing to me when someone questions me about sports. I love sports for the same reason anyone loves anything. Because I personally enjoy them! That’s it. Why do people listen to music? Why do people watch TV? Why do people go hunting or fishing or whatever? Because they get enjoyment or pleasure or fulfillment from it. Some people like to look at paintings, I like to watch grown men sweat on each other. Big deal. I don’t ask you why you care so much about the Kardashians. No, I don’t get it. But what I do get is that people just care about different things because people themselves are different!!! So don’t ask me why I care about something…just accept me for who I am.

            Now for those that sincerely want to know why I love sports, and aren’t just asking me because they personally don’t see the point and want to make me feel like I’m wasting my time by even checking a score once in a while, feel free to continue reading.
So typically when someone asks me why I like sports I say just what I wrote earlier. I enjoy them. But that’s usually followed by another comment or question to the effect of,

“Yeah, I get that going to a game or watching can be fun, but I don’t get why you care who wins or loses. YOU'RE not the one shooting the ball?”

            Really? Just because I’m not actually the one doing something means I can’t care about it!?! The only people I allow to make this argument are those people who have never watched a movie, TV show, play, concert or any other performance, never read a book, or had someone tell them a story, or looked at anything they didn’t build or create, or had any interaction in which they watched, saw, read about, or heard about something that they weren’t involved in first hand, but still cared about. This rules out, oh, I don’t know, THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE! 

            It’s like asking someone, ‘Why are you watching this show? It doesn’t matter whether those people live or die, because it’s only a show. Plus YOU’RE not the one actually shooting those zombies.’ Or, ‘Why are you listening to that music? YOU’RE not the one playing it so who cares what it sounds like?’ Or, ‘Did you paint that? No? Then you shouldn’t want to look at it.’ If I can get this point across, I usually hear a rebuttal something like this,

“Well, whether a team wins or loses, I still have to get up and go to work tomorrow soo…I just don’t get why you care.”

            What kind of life are we living when the things we care about and the things we don’t are determined by whether or not we have to go to work the next day? So Fridays and Saturdays I can care about everything, because I don’t have to get up the next day and go to work? BUT I can’t care about anything any other day…unless I have a day off?

            No, I realize the point they’re trying to make is that it’s stupid to let sports affect me. And yeah, I do get disappointed when my teams lose and it definitely puts a smile on my face when they win. But c’mon? I’m only allowed to have things that would cause me to ‘miss work’ affect me? So really just funerals and weddings then I guess?

“Ok, I can understand that, but I don’t get how you can listen to sports talk radio and why you’re always looking at stats, and reading articles.”

            This is where it gets a bit trickier to explain. And to do so, I think I need to first go through some of the reasons I love sports to understand where I’m coming from on this one. So here we go:

            Some of my earliest are of going to BYU football and basketball games with my dad. He’d buy me a big soda and taught me how to make straws to drink it with out of licorice. And he’d help me keep track of all the players’ points on a stat sheet. I just fell in love with going to those games. Most kids pretended they were Superman or Luke Skywalker. I had a tennis ball and a laundry basket, which I shot hoops into and pretended I was Marty Haws (former BYU basketball player). I know, I know, this sounds like the beginning of a story where I end up hitting the game winning shot at the buzzer to win the state championship and I owe it all to hard work and my passion for basketball that began at a young age. Let me just say that I now know from firsthand experience that no matter how skilled you become throwing a tennis ball into a laundry basket, that skill will absolutely not translate one bit to actually playing the game of basketball in real life.
            I remember my whole family having party for the Super Bowl when Steve Young and the ‘Niners won it and then again a couple of years later when the Packers won it and even my mom being excited for them.
            I remember sitting on the front row of BYU football games with my friend, Matt Orme, and yelling at the visiting team players until they would make obscene gestures at us.
            I remember rushing the field with my friend Blake Wilding when BYU beat a highly ranked Texas A&M team that they weren’t supposed to even compete with, and taking a chunk of the field home and saving it in my desk drawer for years.
            Late night Jazz playoff games with my sister and dad against Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trailblazers.
            When the Jazz finally beat the Rockets to go to the Finals the first time. I jumped up so fast and hard when Stockton hit that shot that I bloodied my hand on the ceiling. My dad was just as excited.
            My first (of many) road trips to see BYU play UNLV in Vegas with some of my best friends from high school.
            Another game at UNLV which some friends and I used as an excuse for a late season Lake Mead boating trip.
            Using BYU football as an excuse to visit my best friend from high school in Oregon.
            Using BYU football as an excuse to visit HAWAII!!!!
            Going to a Jazz game with Brian Park and getting on the jumbotron 3 times. Also, being absolutely certain that Dirk Nowitski could hear us yelling at him and that we got in is head and caused him to have a terrible night. The Jazz won that night because of me and Brian.
            Watching BYU basketball/Jimmer with my grandfather and watching him get so excited every time Jimmer took a shot that we honestly thought he might have another heart attack.
            Watching the Las Vegas bowl at my grandparent’s house and my grandmother calmly predicting that BYU would block a UCLA field goal to win the game, and then it actually happening.
            Using Green Bay Super Bowls and University of Wisconsin Rose Bowls as an excuse to have a party at my grandparent’s house.
            Last second BYU victories over Utah and jumping up and down screaming with my father.
            And many, many more.
            You get the point though. These memories become about more than just the games. But the sports facilitate these moments in my life, with family and friends, which I’ll never forget. Sure there’s other ways to accomplish the same thing. But for me, sports have been one of the best ways.

-They are real
            Now, we’ve gone over the fact that I’m not actually playing the sport. I know this. BUT, the one unique thing about sports as opposed to almost any other form of entertainment is that a game is played only once. It will never be played the exact same way twice. You’re watching people do amazing things live right before your eyes. These people are the fastest, most athletic and physically fit humans on the planet and they are creating something new every time they take the field or the court or whatever. (This is also the reason I love live music and especially jazz. I can barely stand to listen to a jazz album in the car or at home, but going to a live jazz concert is fantastic because they are improvising new music that they have never played before and won’t ever play exactly the same way again. Literally, they are composing on the spot. And the energy can be amazing).
            This is also where the listening to talk radio, reading articles and looking at stats comes in to play. We’ve established that sports (even thought ‘it’s just a game’) are, in fact, unique events and are played by real people. I’ve found that the more that I know about the sport and the players playing it, the more incredible it becomes to me to watch them. The things they’ve overcome, the time and effort they’ve put in and the skill that they have. Knowing these things make the sport even more REAL to me and even more entertaining (going back to the live jazz idea from earlier, the first time I listened to jazz, I actually wasn’t crazy about it. But I ended up studying it all throughout high school and even into college. I played the saxophone in jazz band and tried to learn to improvise solos. I studied its history and the artists and all of their backgrounds. So now I have at least somewhat of an understanding of what the great jazz artists are doing. And now, when I hear live jazz, and someone busts out an incredible solo, I know that they are improvising and how much skill and creativity it takes, and I’m blown away).
            Take Jimmer for example. There have been decades of college basketball played in this country. And there have been quite a few players who accomplished much more than Jimmer. People have scored more points, shot better and at a higher percentage, won more games, and won actual national championships. But Jimmer is the only one who grew up as a short, chubby, white kid in a small town in upstate New York, played in prisons, dribbled in darkened church hallways AND THEN went on to a great career. Jimmer’s play on the court was great and very fun to watch, but it’s where he came from that created Jimmermania. People just want someone like that to succeed.
            Knowing these people’s stories makes it even more real to me and, yes, causes me to care more about the outcome of the games they are playing in. I like knowing that Earl Waston (Utah Jazz point guard) grew up terribly poor and in the bad part of Kansas City. The part where if you grow up there you hardly ever leave and do anything with your life, because either the education you receive isn’t adequate or the peer pressure gets to you and you choose a different lifestyle altogether. And I love the fact that he got out, and used basketball as a way to attend UCLA and get an education he otherwise never could have paid for. And I love that now he’s making millions in the NBA and spends a lot of it on foundations and basketball leagues back in Kansas City that are designed to help kids like him get out of a bad situation and in to a good one. It makes it fun to root for him. Yeah, there are some dirt bags too (Kobe), but knowing the dirt makes it more fun to root against them too!
            You think David Cook won American Idol because he was a better vocalist than David Archuleta? Nope. He won because he had the better story (that was for you Mom).
            There are 3 things that happen in sports that inspire me more than almost anything else. And they aren’t staged or scripted, but they happen nonetheless.
            1. When a team or a player, with the odds stacked against them, overcomes.
Everyone loves an underdog. Think every sports movie you’ve ever seen. Hoosiers, Rudy etc (if you didn’t already know, those movies are actually about real events. The tiny 1A school in Indiana winning the championship in a time when they had to compete with the biggest schools before they were separated into competitive classes by size and the story of a kid who fulfilled his dream to play at Notre Dame, even though nobody believed he could do it). It’s David vs. Goliath. And every year there are stories like that in sports.

            2. When a team or a player who deserves to win, actually wins.
It’s funny, but in real life good guys don’t always win like in the movies. Sometimes the girl ends up with the rich jerk with no personality who treats her like garbage instead of the nice guy who would do anything for her. Sometimes the good guys don’t stop the terrorist plot or save the day just in the nick of time. The same is true in sports, but sometimes the good guy wins. And when it happens it’s great to be there. Sometimes Jimmer wins the Player of the Year and sometimes Tim Tebow takes a team who’s 1-4 and leads them to the playoffs.
            3. When the game becomes about more than what’s happening on the court.
If you haven’t seen the video about the autistic high school student whose dream is to play for his high school team, spends the season as the team’s water boy, and then finally gets to play at the end of one game and the end of the season you have to watch it. He completely air balls his first shot, but then proceeds to hit 6 three pointers in a row, at which point the crowd (his classmates) are sent into a frenzy rushing the court and hoisting him on their shoulders. At the point he comes into the game, it was already decided, the home team up by a wide margin. But this was about more than the game.
            Or maybe you’ve heard the story of the team whose star player died on the court after hitting a game winning shot. The team, deciding it’s what their teammate would have wanted, continued to play through the playoffs, dedicating each win to their fallen friend, until ultimately claiming the championship.

-They eliminate a lot of awkward conversations
            One of the other reasons I love sports and love to consume as much info as I can about them, is that they give me common ground with almost any other dude in the world.
            I served a 2-year mission in the Philippines. I learned their language and studied their culture. But what got me into almost as many doors as anything else was the NBA. They LOVE basketball. I’d say I was from Utah and they’d start talking about the Utah Jazz and Karl Malone and John Stockton. I’d mention Michael Jordan or, unfortunately, Kobe Bryant, and we had an instant conversation.
            My father and I don’t have a ton in common. He’s a brilliant scientist, and professor. I haven’t graduated college. He spends just about all his free time doing genealogy. I watch movies and play video games. But the one thing we can always have a conversation about is sports.
            In the words of one of my favorite sports writers, Bill Simmons, ‘I can get along with anyone on the planet as long as they like basketball. You could dress me up in red, drop me in a Crips neighborhood, tell me that I have 12 minutes to start a high-caliber (basketball) conversation before somebody (shoots me)…and I would live.’

            Anyway, if anyone is still even reading this (I just eclipsed 2800 words), the real point again is that it doesn’t matter why I love sports… I just do. But to me it would be silly to EVER watch or go to a game and not care about the outcome. Caring about something makes it infinitely more interesting and knowing/understanding more about something makes you care about it. As you can probably tell, I could keep writing more and more reasons why I personally love sports, but I don’t know if I’d ever finish.


  1. Having tried out for the high school basketball team (4 straight years) and never making it, I was relegated to playing Jr. Jazz Provo City League. My teams were never very good and I was never the best player. But man we had fun out there! There was one team in our league that was from our same high school, and had quite a few of the more popular kids and football players who were enjoying the off-season with some basketball. To put this in perspective, just from an athletic standpoint, well, their team was full of football players, including at least one who ended up playing for BYU. And I was in the marching band...and I read fantasy novels. So yeah, we weren’t expected to win. But this game was more than just a game to us. It was like revenge of the nerds or something. We wanted it pretty bad. These were the people that you had gone to school with forever, some of them since elementary school and yet they wouldn't acknowledge you if you passed them in the hall. Anyway I don’t remember too much about the game, except that we were down by 2 with the clock winding down. My buddy Brian was dribbling down the court and I set-up on the right wing. Brian dribbled the clock almost to zero and then, inexplicably, passed me the ball. I was sure he was going to take the last shot, but surprised as I was, I chucked up the ball just as the buzzer was going off. It was a 3 pointer, and as luck would have it, it banked in (I called it {not really}). 
  2. I never win. I don’t have a lot of trophies from when I was a kid. I started losing at a young age, when my dad would challenge us kids to play this trivia game called National Geographic. He beat us. There was no mercy in the Kowallis household when it came to playing games. This really ended up helping me cope with losing from a young age as I would go on suffer a series of bitter spelling bee and geography bee defeats. Even when I would get questions correct, my classmates would accuse me of cheating (I’ll never forgive you Chris Wilson). The trend continued into the sports world as I had a long career as the part-time right fielder/13th batter in little league. One of my most poignant memories is the day of the little league draft, when my 2 best friends Matt and John came screaming and running to my house. Their dads were the coaches of one of the teams, therefore giving them an automatic spot on that specific team. The rest of us whose dads were geology professors had to wait and see what team we were drafted to. Anyway, so they came running up to me as excited as I had ever seen them with some type of news they were dying to share. My immediate assumption was that they had been able to draft me, and thus the jubilation. Well, they didn’t draft me. But they did draft Kyle Roberts! Man were they excited. I was crushed (in their defense, Kyle Roberts may have been the most feared little league pitcher of all-time). So anyway, that was just kind of the pattern of my life…until one fateful summer when things came together for me and our ward basketball team. There was a  stake-wide tournament and each ward had a team. Well, we happened to have probably the best player in the stake and had breezed through the regular season without a single loss (except for the ones we forfeit) and were pretty confident about our chances in the tournament. This was my chance to get a taste of the glory! We reached the semi-finals easily, but then had a major set back. Our best player wasn’t going to be able to make it to the semi-final game. I was crushed. I think that there’s some saying somewhere that says something like, ‘when one hero falls, another shall rise to take his place.’ (Or I might have just made that up). This time, that hero was me!!! Now, I’m not a terrible basketball player. I play hard and can make a shot here and there. But on that particular day I was in a zone! Without our best player to carry us, I proceeded to make 7 3-pointers, including one at the buzzer of the first half from just beyond half-court (just like Jimmer)! I have never before and will probably never again shoot that well in a game, but for a few minutes I felt like I was king of the world! We won the game (actually, we won pretty easily. Even if I didn’t make one shot we probably would have won. The other team was real bad. But it was still awesome, okay?), and then our best player was back for the championship, which we also won. And, yeah, this only happened like 6 months ago.


  1. Karl -- Thanks for the post and particularly for the Bonus Reading section. Is there going to be a quiz?

  2. Whoa - now that's a chunk of stuff! Brodie and I had a discussion one day about why people care about sports. He said it's because we expect our team to win and that if there wasn't a chance they would win, we wouldn't watch. I disagreed and said it's the hope that they will win that fuels my fascination. Whether they win or not, there is always hope, so I will continue to watch. Thanks. Aunt Jill