Grown Man Sport
I hate this time of the year. It is full of uncertainty and persistent, nagging questions.
The Christmas holidays are coming up, and with it, the usual series of existential threats – how many sick days do I have left for the year, and how many doctors’ notes can I forge in a six-week period before my boss catches on? Or, for the more honest amongst us, when will the next pandemic break out so that your cursory hangover cough on a Monday morning Zoom call gets you the week off? (At the height of the pandemic, I became an expert in discerning real coughs from fake ones, which worked well until I got a cough, and wondered if it was real or fake).
But other, less fraudulent uncertainties abound, too – like the passing of seasons. I love the northern hemisphere’s summer months because of the sporting fixtures that suddenly avail themselves. Tennis grand slams emerge abruptly and then just as suddenly disappear, as frivolous and fickle as the cream on strawberries at a Wimbledon final. Summers are also when cricket, my first and most enduring love, is played out in five-day-long test matches. If for a moment one is blind to the politics slowly suffocating the sport, on long summer days where time (or anything else) rarely matters, I can almost touch its majesty. But now, I have to contend with other sports, chief among them being football, which I used to enjoy in primary school. Back then, schoolyard squabbles about who the best football player of this generation is seemed fun; now, they remind me of a bad superhero film – the hype and spectacle masks its utter irrelevance.
So, like an aimless swallow, I find myself stuck between the seasons every year. This is fitting for other sorts of existential questions – for this mid-season pirouette also lands quite uncomfortably on Independence Day, bringing into sharp focus my (possible lack of) independence. Not in some do-I-have-freewill way, but rather in a should-I-have-freewill way, with all its associated decisions – like what to cook for dinner, is three hours on the play-station really that long, and what the hell do I need clean clothes for anyway? So, like any great man of my generation stuck in a rut, I went online. Or rather, I found myself online for a few hours after innocently watching one YouTube video (how to operate a washing machine, if you wish to know). Indeed, if Alice were a 21st-century teenager, her rabbit hole would be the internet. Which would make Donald Trump the Queen of Hearts, and errr, me the rabbit? I’m not sure; analogies confuse me – but back to the point.
After a few hours of deep-fake Trump videos and vignettes of cute rabbits playing innocently with puppies, I came across the song Grown Man Sport by Pete Rock & Inl. Because rap lyrics usually perplex me, and I spend most of my energy trying to choreograph my head-bobbing in the hippest manner possible, I often don’t gain much content from rap songs. This one was no different, but I liked my head-bobbing particularly well with Grown Man Sport, so I did further (internet-based) research. According to one expert Reddit user, the song urges “men to take responsibility for their lives and work hard to overcome the challenges they face” – making life a grown man sport.
This puts me in a bit of a predicament – I love sports, but life? That’s a bit of a stretch. However, I gave it some thought – what if there were sports only for grown men? Does golf qualify? Surely that isn’t actually a sport but just a way for overweight men to network in the absence of strip clubs. Or what about bowls? Surely that’s for geriatrics or (again) overweight men. And so, soon, I was out of options, my nagging, creeping doubts once again filling up a wandering mind. But then I understood it perfectly – a grown man sport isn’t actually about sport. It’s about the appearance of knowing about sport. That would explain why 50-year-old men still follow football religiously or why people watch golf on television (akin to watching paint dry). Indeed, this realisation gave me an arsenal of tools to understand The Modern Man properly. Why does he spend his salary on betting? Because he claims to know about the sport. Why does he wear Adidas apparel? Because he claims to know about sports. Why does he write this column? Because he claims to know about sports.