It’s Not About the Game

Crowd of sports fans cheering during a match in stadium. Excited people standing with their arms raised, clapping and yelling to encourage their team.

It’s not unusual to hear a range of critiques surrounding sporting events. Such critics question everything from overpaid athletes and coaches to the events symbolizing misplaced priorities on the part of fans when they “should” be putting their attention elsewhere. I get it. To an outsider looking in, spending money, time, and emotional energy on something that seems to have no real meaning may look delusional. For those who believe this is the case, I have a little (but immensely important) secret to share with you: It’s not about the game.

Wait, what? That’s right. It’s not about the game. Many of you reading this understand what I mean. For those looking at me with a tilted head like our dog Sky when she’s trying to understand what we’re saying, allow me to explain…

This weekend, I was fortunate to attend a pair of basketball games on back-to-back evenings. The first was the final home game of a special season for the Colorado State Rams in Ft. Collins, CO. The second was an overtime win for the Denver Nuggets down in Denver. Both were over-the-top exciting, coming down to the final seconds, with important outcomes for the victors. Neither were inexpensive. Neither involved clicking on the television from the couch or briefly catching updates while scanning social media. Both were extremely valuable investments of time and money.

The first – the CSU/BSU game on Saturday – took place in front of a sold-out arena in Ft. Collins, CO. It’s a special season with a special team that is bringing a town and a university back together with a single voice after the Covid lockdowns, restrictions and isolation of the past two years. Greeting ushers on the way in the door with a Go Rams!;  high-fiving complete strangers after a big play; and friendly attitudes even as thousands of cars made their way out of the parking lot after the game. 

However, as fantastic as all that sounds, it has little to do with the core benefit. Prior to the game, two of our kids stopped by the house to let the dogs play. Then we headed to our favorite taco joint to join two more of our kids and extended family who came to town. Breaking bread together, chatting as we walked over to the arena, big hugs and smiles all around and connection time throughout… none of which happens without the game.

The following night was the Nuggets game with my son-in-law, Brian. It’s a two hour drive each way. I left our house at 3:30 p.m. and returned home around 11 p.m. But in addition to an exciting game, I got some time with our daughter when I arrived early to pick up Brian, and several hours of 1:1 time with a young man who’s got a lot going on in his life – a life of which I absolutely want to be a part. While guys often aren’t known for effective communication, conversations tend to flow in the car and throughout the game. Earlier this year, I got the chance to do the same with our other son-in-law, Colby. And on seven other nights over the past several months, our son Joshua – who’s in the midst of med school, a new puppy and time with his amazing wife Callie of nine months – makes time to hang out with his Dad for the evening thanks to these games with those same Nuggets he grew up watching.

“But, Brad – you could do all that stuff without the game.” Correct – we could – but we don’t. And with very few exceptions, neither do most. We could also cut down a tree, wrap up gifts, decorate the house, have the kids sleep over and gather for a special day without Christmas on the calendar. But we don’t. And neither do you. Sporting events are not a “sometime we should.” They’re not a “let’s get together.” There’s no binging, skipping through, pausing or rescheduling because something else came up. They take place on a specific day at a specific time, and generally with phones left in our pockets. We pick the game, put it on the calendar, and then build (dinner, tailgating, road trips, etc.) around it. And that’s where the good living is.

Anyone who ignores or critiques sporting events as a waste of time and money has never experienced the real thing. Yes – there are negatives to sports such as excessive identity issues, costs involved, combination with too much alcohol, gambling, etc. And yes, there are wonderful alternatives that allow similar outcomes (I could just as easily write this post about our family’s joy of concerts together). Are sporting events the answer to all of life’s problems? Should they be the focus of every waking moment? Of course not. But when we realize it’s not actually about the game, they absolutely set the stage for what really matters.

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