Funny You Should Say That! Let's Talk Sports
Athletes and sportswriters find ways to make
blatant truisms sound like blinding insights.
By John Cadley
To love both sports and language is to suffer an intense form of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, you can’t get enough pre-game interviews and post-game analysis. On the other, your left temporal lobe is assaulted by so many exhausted clichés that it feels like a mild concussion. I’ve actually heard a player say, “If we put some points on the board we’ll be in a good position to win.” Thankfully, nobody challenged that assumption.
I understand the problem. Sports are simple. Somebody wins, somebody loses, and the scoreboard tells you why. What’s there to talk about? Consequently, athletes and sportswriters must find ways to make blatant truisms sound like blinding insights. That’s how you get a statement like this from a sportscaster describing one coach’s strategy for playing the game of basketball: “He understands the ball has two sides.” Well, as the referee here, I’m going to have to call him for fouling the laws of Euclidean geometry. Obviously, he meant to say the game has two sides, offense and defense, but apparently that seemed a little, well, obvious, so he aimed for the poetic description and ended up shooting a linguistic air ball.
Football players often say that they are “expecting a physical game.” Considering the 14 pounds of protective padding they’re wearing, the Emergency Medical Teams standing by, and the ambulances parked around the field, I can’t imagine what else they’d be expecting, unless they plan to ratchet up the violence to the point where the winner is the team with the fewest dead people. If the game is close, if they “came out flat” and then “got the momentum back,” “played their game” and “got into their rhythm,” they will sum it up by saying, “Today, we overcame adversity.” Well, yes, athletic competitions are by definition adversarial, especially when your adversary is trying to put you in the hospital. Penalty: fifteen yards for flagrant belaboring of the obvious.
And then there’s the classic observation: “They’re better than their record.” This is like Edgar Wilson Nye’s famous saying that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds. Actually, if a team is losing to teams they should be beating, they’re worse than their record. And for that I’m calling two minutes in the penalty box for intentionally roughing a non sequitur.
In the days leading up to President Obama’s inauguration, one retired baseball player, wishing to acknowledge the historic import of the occasion, opined, “You know, sometimes current events transpire sports.” I’ll give him points for recognizing that the fate of our country might be slightly more important than who’s starting for the Yankees against the Red Sox. I’ll even award him extra points for almost choosing the correct word – i.e., “transcend.” He got the “trans” part right, so let’s call it a long, well-hit ball that curved foul at the last minute.
There will, however, be no special consideration for the coach who said, “We’re planning to win multiple Super Bowls and we’re going to start with the first.” I only wish his interviewer had replied, “Why not start with the second? Then you can win your first later.” I’m throwing the flag on this one for interference with a tautology and I’m requiring that henceforth the coach’s playbook include a section on propositional logic.
Even fans are guilty. Whenever a spectator becomes aware of a television camera in the area, he or she automatically waves an index finger in front of the lens to proclaim that their team is Number One. Not only is this Pavlovian response tiresomely predictable, it frequently borders on the delusional. I saw a Detroit Lions fan do it this year. While his team was losing by 21 points. On its way to an 0-16 season. Penalty: ejection from the stadium and a $500 fine for felony assault on a fait accompli.
Finally, there is the mixed metaphor. Players can get mixed up with bad people and bad situations, but when they get mixed up in a bad metaphor – or in this case, several of them – the results can be even more disastrous. To wit, this explanation from a hockey player as to why his team lost: “Well, they just gave us a good old-fashioned whupping today. We shot ourselves in the foot and dug a deep hole and they ate our lunch.”
There will be no penalty here. Any man who’s been whupped, shot and thrown into a hole with nothing to eat for lunch has been penalized enough.
John Cadley is an advertising copywriter in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.