Anyone who watched an American College movie from the 1980s knows that human beings can be separated into two clear sub-species: Jocks and Nerds. And much like Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens these two tribes tend to "get it on ‘cause they don't get along".
Usually the Jocks are the football and basketball players, the cheerleaders, and all their pop-collar-douchebag-fratboy friends (or munters, as I call them) and they are generally psychopaths. The Nerds are anyone else who doesn't fit societal "norms". They are the punks, the computer users, the prodigies, the homosexuals, the drug users; in short they are the Public Address readership.
The chasm between the two often seems to be sports. Nerds don't like sports and aren't very good at them. This gives the evil bully Jocks a lead in the inevitable "annual college games".
But has this really ever been the case? Why do the Jocks rule our sports media? Why would it be that you can't enjoy sports and be an intellectual?
Tom Wolfe is someone who, I would suggest, falls squarely onto the Nerd side of the board. And yet I have recently read an article (part of compendium) written by Wolfe on sport. And not just any sport, NASCAR. The article, written for Esquire magazine in the 60s, follows Junior Johnson in his final year of racing for Chevrolet (before going to Ford), and pulls no punches. It is not dumbed down for a supposedly illiterate sports fan, with run on sentences and (sometimes literally) colourful descriptions.
Ten o'clock Sunday morning in the hills of North Carolina. Cars, miles of cars, in every direction, millions of cars, pastel cars, aqua green, aqua blue, aqua beige, aqua buff, aqua dawn, aqua dusk, aqua aqua, aqua Malacca, Malacca lacquer, Cloud lavender, Assassin pink, Rake-a-cheek raspberry. Nude Strand coral, Honest Thrill orange, and Baby Fawn Lust cream-colored cars are all going to the stock-car races, and that old mothering North Carolina sun keeps exploding off the windshields. Mother dog!
Nor is the sports content dumbed down for the reader who would be sipping martinis at the club and never know of the rivalry between Ford and Chevrolet.
Anyway, these good old boys are talking about Junior Johnson and how he has switched to Ford. This they unanimously regard as some sort of betrayal on Johnson's part. Ford, it seems, they regard as the car symbolizing the established power structure. Dodge is a kind of middle ground. Dodge is at least a challenger, not a ruler. But the Junior Johnson they like to remember is the Junior Johnson of 1963, who took on the whole field of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) Grand National racing with a Chevrolet. All the other drivers, the drivers driving Fords, Mercurys, Plymouths, Dodges, had millions, literally millions when it is all added up, millions of dollars in backing from the Ford and Chrysler Corporations. Junior Johnson took them all on in a Chevrolet without one cent of backing from Detroit.
Wolfe understands that you can be intelligent and want to read beautiful passages and, at the same time, love to watch men wrestle with 2-ton rockets as they hurtle around the asphalt.
And you know as well as I do that Wolfe isn't alone here. The best contemporary example is probably Stephen Fry. Fry is a huge Norwich football fan.
Norwich failed to stop the men of Blackpool from propelling the leathern spheroid between the uprights on 2 occasions, dang it.
That may not sound too intense until you realise he wrote this a few moments before the above:
A thousand arses. Norwich City. Boohoo. Bah. Spit. Pants, pants and more pants. Frankly one comes close to despairing.
And it's not just the football:
I know some of you will say "contradiction in terms", but gad the cricket's exciting at the moment xx
So I think we can all agree the Nerds don't actually hate sport. They really fucking love it. And not just the numbers-loving Nerds who want to work out the intricacies of sabermetrics, but also creative, artistic Nerds.
And I can't believe that people would think this. Honestly I still get "really?" when I tell people I write about sport (though not as often as when I tell people I have an honours degree in mathematics).
So why are we sold this image that sports fans are (to put it bluntly) fucking idiots? Why are our sports shows fronted by mugging idiots churning out puns and being jocular for the camera? When did this happen? And more importantly does it matter?
The Jocks seem to be happy. And the Nerds seem to be ok in their sneering contempt. But really can't we give peace a chance? No.
And why is that? Because the reverse is not true: start by telling someone that you are a fan of sport and suddenly you are placed in the munter bucket and it's a very hard thing to get out of. It's even harder if you pick a contact sport.
Even if you have known someone for a long time, telling them you like rugby can be akin to telling them you've been illegally exporting butchered puppy meat and guns to Sudanese militia. "I like rugby" apparently also means that you only drink lager, like V8s, have no idea about feminism, don't like shopping, and possibly own a book by Jeremy Clarkson.
People who like sport (whichever sport) are just like people who like David Mamet plays or people who like coffee or people who like making animated gifs. Varied but with a common interest.
So I feel it's time to recapture sports from the hands of munters. We've already done it to computers, seriously, how many of us "online folk" wear pocket protectors and shirts tucked into trousers pulled up way too high? (Although Bruce Sterling did mention a new meme at Webstock: glasses, tattoos, stickers on laptops and ironic tshirts). So why don't we try to recapture the image of a sports fan from the munters?
And if you don't like sports, that's cool too. I'm not going to make you talk about it (unless you are my poor darling, who has to put up with my long-winded rants). We'll find something else to talk about, how do you feel about Jeremy Clarkson? I hate him.