For my write-up today on Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician, I’d like to feature something that Ambrose says on pages 456-457:
“[Nixon] continued to read the sports page avidly, and with that marvelous memory of his he absorbed all the numbers. Batting averages, yards gained per carry, earned run averages, pass completion percentage, the whole never-ended stream of numbers was to Nixon what the Western novels were to Eisenhower, the perfect relaxation. Through the sports pages, Nixon could escape to a world in which there were no moral qualms and no one’s motives were ever questioned. In addition, Nixon, like millions of his fellow countrymen, was a hero-worshiper, standing in awe of those who could do so well what he could never do at all, playing games for a living, testing themselves daily in the arena.”
I myself am not a sports fan, and I am puzzled when people argue vehemently about games that, to me, are of little or no consequence. I suppose that there have been a few times when I could identify with sports fans, though—-with their interest in the drama that accompanies some games, especially when an underdog is posing a serious challenge to the reigning teams. As much as I dislike sports, I love the movies Hoosiers and Rocky.
I doubt that I would have bonded with Nixon had I met him because he loved sports, whereas I do not. I usually have nothing to contribute when I’m in a group of people who are discussing sports. And, when I try to do research on sports in order to contribute something to the conversation, I often come across as someone who has no idea what he’s talking about! I can’t fake loving something that I do not love.
Sometimes, sports fans love to educate people who know little about sports. They like to tell the less-informed what is going on, get into strategy, etc. And that can be interesting. Being an audience to that can allow me to form a bond with another human being. But, in a number of settings, people who are learned about sports prefer to talk about sports with others who are learned about sports. I suppose that there are times when many of us enjoy teaching people who do not know much about our fields, but there are other times when we’d like to go beyond the basics and talk with people who know as much as, or more than, we do.
I could identify with Nixon seeking a refuge in sports. I myself don’t seek refuge in sports, but I can understand Nixon seeing sports as a place where people’s motives are not scrutinized. One problem that I have with social situations is that I feel that my motives are scrutinized or judged, and I scrutinize and judge others. It makes sense, therefore, that people would bond over sports, in which human motives are not as much of an issue. Unfortunately, my interests, politics and religion, have a solid human element, and so talking about those things with people can tend to alienate them from me (or me from them), rather than allowing me to bond with them (depending on whether or not they share my beliefs).