Nine innings. Strike zone. Pitcher. Batter. Bases: First base, second base, third base, home base. Pitching staff. Top of the inning vs. bottom of the inning. Court not pitch. Touch down. Ballpark. Off season. UFC. Umpire not referee. Wrestling. Bullpen. MLB. NBA. NFL. MLS. NHL. WFAN. ESPN. Spring Training. Floyd Mayweather. Mike Tyson. The Klitschko brothers. Trivia questions. Debate. Fanaticism. Mike Francesa. TV deals. Raw SmackDown.
How do you feel? Is your head still spinning? Do you feel as if you were surrounded by a hundred Chinese speaking people who won’t stop throwing strange words and cloudy sentences your way? Welcome to the world of sports talk in America!
I made first contact with this social phenomenon even before I had my first class meeting. Surprisingly, academic advisement took a pause while I learned about the violent nature of American football and a study about concussions and football that was going to take place. Did you know that the job of a football helmet is not to prevent concussions but to prevent skull fractures? I didn’t mind, did even enjoy how leaned-back the conversation had gone by. But I was surprised to find myself involved in sports talk in this situation.
I became the next dose of sports talk right before my first class meeting. Entering the classroom, I was greeted by the hectic and emotional exchange of arguments. I just wanted to pitch in and say “hi”, but the pace of the debate made it impossible to find a moment of silence to do that.
I tried to follow them, tried to understand what they were talking about. A-Rod. Some TV deal. NBC Sports. Money. USA Network. Entertainment. Wrestling. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Team owner XYZ. I gave up. It just didn’t make any sense.
Same location, different day. With more and more sports talk crossing my way, I wanted to try a different approach: note taking. Ah, I remember that name. Wait, how do you spell this guy? T-a-n-? No, don’t… Too late, they’ve already progressed to another topic; from baseball to football to hockey and back to baseball in split seconds. How am I supposed to learn to understand what you’re talking about if you’re constantly switching topics and sports? Frustrating.
Sports talk seems to be a social activity that is always on. It connects people, breaks the ice, and seems to make people comfortable talking to people they don’t even know. Drop a reference to any type of sport and life around you stops. Everyone has an opinion about everything. Even people who are not into sports either participate or make clear that they are not a fan of whatever people are talking about.
Sports play a major role in German society as well. European football is all over the place, but I’ve never experienced this kind of sports talk. Sure, it still connects people, it’s still THE icebreaker, but it feels different. It’s more rational (despite being far from rational), less heated, and – for sure – a lot slower.
When Germans talk about sports, they talk about football. That’s what I had expected to find here as well – people talking about one sport at a time. But involving all sports into a conversation, jumping from one to another and back in the middle of an argument? That’s new, and that’s what made it so confusing in the beginning because it was impossible to find a starting point from where I could begin to work my way into the field of American sports.
Thanks to the fact that I’m being inundated with sports talk, I’m beginning to understand. This is not supposed to sound negative because it really is not. Sports is just a huge part of the American culture. It’s part of the experience to learn all about it and eventually understand at least the basics. And just recently, I had my first success in my efforts to decode the language of sports. More about that soon!