i have always had a strained relationship with competition. as a child, i held the maxim that any satisfaction derived from direct comparison between oneself and another showed a deep weakness of character. you know, typical kid stuff. this belief held especially so when applied to the crude arena of the physical. my ego, in comparison to my brutish peers, was vastly superior due to its self-sufficiency. no external stimulus required, or so i would tell myself. as my buddies played endless games of street hockey, i practiced my free throw on the basketball net above the garage. even this solitary pursuit was an exercise in absurdity as i never once acquiesced to play a game of one-on-one. once in a moment of weakness i did enter a free throw competition, but who can say no to the knights of columbus. this attitude may indeed seem strange. especially when possessed by a nine-year old who would not encounter the works of ayn rand until several years later.
this was of course a defence mechanism, an intellectualization employed by a young boy not particularly adept at sports. oddly, this egotistical compensation was not a result of a lack of athletic ability but based on the belief that the universe had conspired to instil this stoic stance on victory and defeat through circumstance. namely, an accident of geography and a pair of portentous sporting campaigns. first of all, my family emigrated from ireland to canada when i was two years of age. needless to say, ice hockey (yes i prefaced it with ‘ice’) was not my father’s forte. this was a man who after living in the country for over thirty years would still occasionally refer to people as ‘canadians’. needless to say jim jr was never taken out to the pond to learn the basics of the great canadian game, never enrolled in peewee hockey, never knew the joys of waking at five am to be in leitrim for six. amongst my group of friends it was so taken for granted that young boy played hockey that once on meeting a buddy’s father he naturally asked ‘so hows your hockey going?’ the shame still haunts me. for the next ten years in that household i was treated as a suspected homosexual. by my perverse logic, hockey was the preeminent sport, by not playing ipso facto you where not an athlete. it is perhaps fair to say that i was a child who spent too much time inside his own head.
there were of course other sports available. being an immigrant of european stock, football was the obvious choice (im calling it football just because thats what the other five continents call it). that experiment ended in disaster. i played two years, the second on a competitive team. competitive perhaps being too strong a term as we didnt win a single game. i only remember two things about that season: us scoring once, and the confusion from the opposing team who had never seen a team so elated by a draw. in a spasm of self-preservation, my psyche repressed the rest the season. being embarrassed for ninety minutes every week soured me on the beautiful game. thinking a little more domestically i decided to play baseball for a season. ominously, i was drafted by a league team calling themselves the ‘all-stars’. this hubris would no doubt go unsmoten. again, the cassidy curse struck; we did not win a single game. distraught, i quit the team half way through the season. this precipitated a winning season that lasted all the way to the championship, which they won. apparently they were the all-but-one-stars. to my embarrassment i still received a trophy. i felt it should not have been of a baseball batter at the plate, but of a soldier falling on his own grenade. sadly, trophies are traditionally not fashioned with irony in mind. it was hard not to divine from this series of calamities that competitive athletics was not for me.
for years afterwards i shunned all sporting events, even in the capacity as a fan. i figured if you did not play the sport you had no business watching it. who are you to have an opinion on a game of which you cant even perform the basics? my friends seemed to know every obscure player, every intricacy to every rule, constantly awash in a sea of stats. at best, my contribution would be to muster a decent don cherry impression after watching a marathon of rock ’em sock ’em videos. it was not until i was in my twenties that i learned to chill the fuck out and get into it.
part 2 coming soon …