Confessions of a Terrible Sport

Being a bad sport means you’ve lost your reasoning and forgotten the reason for doing something in the first place.

University of Notre Dame cheerleaders, coaches, and players take the field before the Navy game on Oct. 28, 2006.
University of Notre Dame cheerleaders, coaches, and players take the field before the Navy game on Oct. 28, 2006. (photo: Jeremy R. Smith Sr. / Shutterstock.com)

Confession time. I am a terrible sport. I struggle when I’m watching football — in particular, Notre Dame. I don’t just want them to win — I want them to be perfect every play. I get mad when they don’t see the man open or when they run a play that, for the defense, is visible from space.

I used to not be able to watch for fear I’d start cursing in front of the children. I’m just as awful with other sports if I’ve invested my heart. Yes, I’m a home-team screaming crazy stupid fan without the excuse of alcohol.

It’s not pretty if you’re not for my team and you’re sitting next to me.

In recent years, it’s become a running gag with my children and a source of spiritual frustration for me, as I try to will myself not to get upset. I tried not caring, but that doesn’t work. I tried not letting myself watch — but it means when I do watch, the problem seems to have tripled in size in the off season. I’ve read articles. I’ve gone to confession. It is a thorn and no small source of embarrassment to me but even the desire not to look like an idiot isn’t sufficient to quell my urge to go all in when I care about something. It is the vice reflection of fervor, the virtue of which is zeal.

Playing non-competitive games with my youngest children has helped. I’ve also taken to reminding myself and asking others to kick me under the table if I forget that I’m playing to play, not playing to win. I suppose that’s the problem with “discussion” these days. We aren’t discussing to arrive at truth — we’re arguing to win. We aren’t discerning what is the best good for society — we’re campaigning for our side. We’re not seeking to love our neighbors — we’re seeking to rule our neighbors. We’re seeking to beat them and to be bad sports about it in the process. 

Being a bad sport means you’ve lost your reasoning and forgotten the reason for doing something in the first place. We cheer for a team because we love the team. We love being at the game and experiencing that rush of watching the game itself unfold. We play cards or kickball or monopoly because we want to spend time with each other. For me, I spend a lot of time saying to myself that winning is irrelevant to the experience of being with them. I have to love watching Notre Dame — win, lose or draw — and not let my love of the experience be defined by the team’s shortcomings. Or by mine. 

If we want a country that is more than defined by its sins, we can’t lose ourselves in process fighting them. As Catholics, and as a nation, we need to be better sports than I am. We need people of good will on both sides of the aisle to seek to make the reality of policy and politics something better than winner-take-all and winning-means-all. We can also promise to lovingly kick each other in the shins if we forget. We’re all here to try and create a society that serves the whole of us — not just some, and not at the expense of others.

Go Irish!

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