A little off the beaten path today, but who says I can’t get seasonal?
This time of year everyone is getting gifts to tap into the heart of what makes us happy, and in doing so they think about what defines us as people. Like it or not, we are defined- and define ourselves, by our sports allegiances, and the success of the teams we root for. As a Michigan fan I can hold my head high in any sports environment right now and utter the words “BCS” if any other fan got on my case. From 2008-2010 however, I would have to hold my tongue lest I get into an argument that can only be lost due to the fact that “my” team stunk. So we wear (sometimes literally) our fandom on our sleeves, a way to mark ourselves to the world like a bumper sticker on a long road trip (and like bumper stickers, the more pieces you have on the more obnoxious you look).
For a sports fan, I have very few pieces of sports-related items hanging around, but I can say pretty confidently that almost all of them have been gifts. There is the signed picture of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon I received for my 18th birthday (and the PTI mug that went with it), a poster of Gary Williams my brother brought me from College Park, and the oh-so-appropriate Orioles doormat I got for another birthday. Each time I think the gift marked a point where my fandom had become part of me. I had only started to really get into Maryland basketball when the poster pushed it over the edge, and the doormat represented a point when I had just about memorized the Delmarva starting lineup. Growing up my Dad always said he never rooted for any particular team in the NFL, having grown up all over the place and only settling in Baltimore in 1990. Yet sure enough a couple years ago what did he want for his birthday? An Ed Reed jersey. He got a lot of gifts that day and we tried to make his birthday a big deal (it was the first one in a long time his mother wasn’t there for an annual tradition), but he went nuts over that jersey.
I have the old UVa shirts my grandparents bought me when I was certain I would go to UVa and be a Virginia Cavaliers fan for life (seriously, up until junior year of high school it was all UVa), and more Michigan gear than I know what to do with. Honestly, what do you do with a Michigan shirt that says “Michigan Football 2008: The Tradition Continues” when the team wound up going 3-9 that year?
But apart from the welcome mat it would take you a while in my apartment to figure out who I rooted for unless you decided to venture into my closets or take a very close look at some random objects on my bookshelf. This holiday season, I am sure anyone reading this will probably wind up getting a sports-related gift of some kind, but I encourage you to consider it more than an overpriced logo or even a way to show off your team. It is a reflection of where you are in life, what you care about, and what you value. I was a UVa fan because of what I thought they represented (way in the past now, mind you), and my Dad went nuts for that jersey not just because he loved the Ravens but because he felt a meaningful and permanent connection with the city of Baltimore. Each of those Michigan t-shirts represents hope for a season that was never quite fulfilled, yet I can’t seem to shake myself of them despite the fact that I may never wear them again. That hope tied me to my university, not just the team that represented it.
This year I am not asking for anything sports related but who knows, I might be surprised. If I am I hope it helps make more memories and serve as a reminder of what I hold important not only on the field, but in my values and my life. But of course, that never happens except with the time and the perspective that comes with it. At the time, a Jake Arrieta signed baseball is just a Jake Arrieta signed baseball. Still pretty cool though. Happy gift-giving season!