A columnist’s pursuit of understanding

Sports Columnist
Thursday, April 26, 2012

When I promised a list of “most compelling NBA playoff matchups” for the West last week, I neglected two very important pieces of information. The first was that by the time that column ran, nearly all of the playoff matchups would have been decided, making the point of the column moot. The second was that this column will be my final column for The Herald. (A moment of silence from my seven fans and thunderous applause from the three dozen people who send me what I would tentatively describe as “you’re an idiotic, uninformed hack” mail.)

In the interest of keeping my promise from last week, I will say that I intended to bill the San Antonio Spurs-Phoenix Suns as a great matchup because of the history between the two teams. I was also going to flag the likely Dallas Mavericks-Oklahoma City Thunder series for similar reasons. I thought pitting the Denver Nuggets against the Los Angeles Clippers would be fun just because of all of the young, explosive athleticism and the number of Nuggets castoffs the Clippers have on their roster. Lastly, I thought a Los Angeles Lakers-Memphis Grizzlies matchup would have been particularly exciting, given the size of the teams, a chance to see Tony Allen guard Kobe Bryant in the playoffs again and the sibling rivalry plot line of the monstrous Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc. But we now know it will be a surprisingly dangerous Utah Jazz team in the playoffs instead of Steve Nash’s Suns and that only my Mavericks-Thunder prediction is likely to come true.

Now that that’s over with…

I first started writing this column a year and a half ago to live the dream of every opinionated 20-something. That dream is to have a mouthpiece through which to parade around my ideas while being relatively shielded from the dangers of an actual dialogue – people disagreeing with me and (God forbid) illustrating their point better than I could my own. When I paired this disposition with my love of sports, sharing my unsolicited opinions about grown men playing games with each other seemed perfect for me. After all, it’s sports. It’s pretty low-stakes in terms of something to argue about. At the end of the day, it’s just a game.

I wrote columns comparing LeBron James to the Fish Company, Hal Steinbrenner to Michael Scott and Eli Manning to a child who eats glue sticks. I enjoyed my little corner of the paper.

But as silly as my prose sometimes turned out, writing a weekly column made me constantly ask myself why I was a sports fan. I gave every possible answer I could think of. One week I argued that sports were an evolutionary remainder of our competitive nature. Another week, I said that we enjoyed the persistent continuity of sports and that no matter what, there was always hope that this season would be the one when something good happened. Though I never wrote this in a column, I even hypothesized once that we love sports for the same reason we love superheroes. That sports represent the emergence of children with extraordinary powers who can come from any sort of background or situation and catapult themselves into fame and admiration.

But I think, at the end of the day, the reason why I love sports so much is related to the reason why I chose Brown – to practice understanding what someone else has to say.

I don’t mean that literally, even though sometimes those hockey players can have some difficult accents. Sportswriting and sports fandom are hotbeds of opinions and ideas – many of which are in direct opposition to what you may believe as a fan. In addition, these are charged with an energy and emotion that are typically associated with a political atmosphere. Long story short, it’s a very difficult medium in which to have a discussion that doesn’t dissolve into “nuh-uhs” and “yah-huhs.”

Similarly, I came to Brown because of the campus’ open-mindedness and diverse selection of ideas and values. Some of these I may not agree with, but I’ve always believed that understanding is something to be worked toward. It’s a sliding definition in which the more you learn about someone and why they believe what they do, the better chance you have of finding the common ground. Our greatest challenge today is the pursuit of empathy.

It took me the better part of my time with this column to understand one of the reasons why I was writing it. I had fallen into our generation’s greatest flaw. I was more interested in telling everyone why my thoughts on the sports world were correct, instead of listening to why everyone else might disagree with me. Dialogue is our greatest asset, and it would be a shame for us not to use it.

Though if someone wants to disagree with me about that, I’m willing to listen.


Sam Sheehan ’12 would like to thank his readership for a great four semesters. If you guys were LeBron James, you would have read for three of them and taken the last one off.

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