Around this time, two years ago, I went on a diet. A sports diet.
In 2019, I wrote the first draft of a memoir/sports essay book. In December, I was fed up with all this. I was tired of myself and tired of writing about myself and I was tired of reading and watching and thinking about sports. I also needed a certain distance from the text of the book.
So I decided to take a sports break. Due to renovations, my wife and I moved out of our home in Cork on March 2 to live in a rented house in East Cork without a TV. A great opportunity to live without sport, I thought. A detox, a reset, an opportunity to break my habit.
That would be it. A whole season of sport would pass me by; I’ll be on top as Lauren says in. And I was interested in how I would feel about that absence, how I would test myself without football, without rugby, without golf, without cycling, without GAA, without tennis, without the Olympics – all a glorious spring and summer swirling around noisily outside my bubble and I would happily enjoy the quiet, reading and writing about other subjects. Walk the countryside, listen to the birds and watch the crops, flowers and trees meander through the seasons.
I would also like to observe myself and my life to see how I could live without sport. If I could live without sport. My plan was that I would write about the experience. About the possibility of a life without sport, what such a life would be like. What a great plan to have in March 2020, what could go wrong?
Anyway, reviewing the sport I consumed last week to see what I would write today reminded me of my “big fast” of 2020. I’m not fasting now , It’s certain.
Last Saturday: some early highlights from Osaka’s loss to Anisimova. Osaka is a hero of mine and her post-loss press conference was a masterclass in what sport should be. Then reading last weekSaturday sports supplement, including Larry Ryan’s super column on ‘boring’ Man City and misogyny – which led me to track down a sociological study from Durham University. Pieces of Southampton against Man City, wanting the Saints to hang on. Highlights (well, a highlight) of Man United v West Ham. Some radio and social media reports on the Rugby Champions Cup. Golf chunks from the USA – but I couldn’t commit to that. More clips from the Australian Open – men’s tennis on this court is pretty consistent.
Sunday: Some Slaughtneil v Ballygunner on the car radio (fair play to Derry men). From Stade Français v Connacht on the radio (like a French ending). Checking out the mighty Ballygiblin on social media, a practical victory. Some Palace v Liverpool (until VAR removes LFC from sight). Then the second half of St Thomas’ v Ballyhale on TV, keeping an eye on the Munster v Wasps score.
Then the Homeric exploits of a certain Thomas Joseph Reid. Minutes before his second goal, my friend Barry texted, “TJ gonna do it, they’re isolating him at ff.” I said, “Yeah, one on one, be careful.” What was so beautiful was the certainty, like the shocking (but inevitable) ending of a Raymond Carver short story.
My sporting highlight of the week was The Address UCC Glanmire v DCU Mercy National Basketball Cup Final on Sunday night TV. The feeling of joy the occasion evoked was as unexpected as it was wonderful. Maybe it’s the sound of kids cheering, or a Cork team beating a Dublin team; maybe it’s the fluid grace of basketball (what David Foster Wallace meant when he described Michael Jordan as “suspended in the air like a wife of Chagall”); or maybe there’s some kind of ethic in women’s sports that men have lost. I don’t know, but it looked very special to those jaded old eyes.
The NFL Rams v Buccaneers, later starring Tom Brady (aka the man who wishes he was TJ Reid) felt insignificant by comparison.
Monday, the32 pages, reliving all the sport of the weekend. Wednesday was the UCC vs. UCD Fitzgibbon Cup game, revisiting some nice old ghosts – it was chilly there, but heartwarming to see the remarkable speed of thought of the young pitchers up close. Walking to and from the seawall, I listened to The42’s Gavin Cooney’s “Behind The Lines” podcasts with sportswriters Richard Williams and Chris Jones.
In between, lots of radio, hourly bulletins in news programs, social media chatter, and more newspapers. Another set of edits to that cursed book, adding some of this Durham misogyny study.
Overall, an overuse I felt, especially in the middle of a January Omicron. Not only in its scope and the time devoted, but also in its variety of supports and means. And it’s week after week. I was a bit shocked.
When I saw writer and fellow North Corkman Michael Foley’s Tweet on Tuesday about American football leaving no room in his brain for sports, I felt the same about all sports.
Maybe it’s time for another diet.
Maybe I’ll start next week.
Or maybe the week after.
Or maybe when the Champions League is over.
Or maybe never. Let’s be realistic.
– The Game: A Lifetime Inside and Outside the White Lines by Tadhg Coakley will be published by Merrion Press in May 2022.