Contrary to what you might assume, I spent eleven months working as a Sports Writer for the Winona Daily News.
That's not a lie. My articles are still up on the Winona Daily News website.
As for my entire experience working at the Daily News, I think I'll save that for a more in depth essay. As for this one, I want to explain how I - someone who previously had no understanding or care for sports - eventually came to understand, and even enjoy, the 'thrill of the game.'
Now you might be saying to yourself now:
To which I would respond with:
So, a very brief introduction for those who don't know.
How The Hell I Became A Sports Journalist...
... when I knew nothing about sports ... or journalism.
It's 2016, I'm living in Winona for the summer in an off campus apartment (that's actually just one floor of a house). All of my Winona jobs are campus jobs that don't happen during the summer, so I'm living off my savings. My two roommates both have jobs and I am the only one without a job. I am getting very very desperate.
I'm not sure whether I saw the listing before or after my roommate Zoë brought it to my attention (I had scraped through just about every listing in the city), but it was her encouragement that got me to apply to begin with.
Plus I low key really didn't want to work at the Hy-Vee where I got an interview.
One application, one interview, and one take home writing assignment later and wouldn't you know, I got the job.
As funny as I think it is to present the scenario like I was a complete buffoon, I should give myself some credit. I knew how to write, I knew how to match form, and that's what got me through the eleven months. In addition to that, with the number of sports that I ended up covering, there was no expectation for the writer in that position to be a complete expert. Yeah, knowing football is cool and all, but you also need to understand Alpine Skiing, and Track and Field, and Wrestling, and Gymnastics, and Marathons.
So I wasn't a completely absurd choice.
First few weeks were really rough. Partly because of the whole, not knowing sports thing, but mostly because this was prep season. Games weren't happening yet, and by golly when you don't have the crutch of game for the plot of your story, you gotta understand what's going on.
But as the fall season started, things got a lot better. I started to form relationships with the coaches, I got a lot of sunburns, and I spent a fair amount of time in the Kwik Trip parking lot in Fountain City, Wisconsin, typing furiously on my laptop to make press time after late night games at the Cochrane-Fountain City high school.
For the longest time, however, the games still felt like a chore. It was just a bunch of kids running around scoring points or what not.
(That's partially a lie, I have always and will always love volleyball even though it gives me such anxiety. Something about saving a spike with a bump is so thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Also the term for a spike that scores a point is a 'kill' and what's more iconic than that?)
And that wasn't for lack of exposure. My first ever job was as a vendor at Camp Randall for the UW Madison Badger football games, and throughout college I played cymbals in the pep band for our football games.
Come to think of it now, maybe this actually had more to do with the inherent tie between work and sports in my life...
But it all changed with one game.
State Basketball Tournament Spring Break 2017
I didn't really get a Spring Break, but I had the chance to get something close to that.
You see, it was late in season and already tournament time, and most if not all of the teams in our coverage area (for basketball at least) had lost or completed their season. One however, had not.
And with a team still playing, we still had to cover their games, and I didn't get that sweet sweet taste of spring break.
I was sent to a basketball game in whoknowswhere Wisconsin, a 30-40 minute drive away from the Mississippi, and covered a game knowing this.
If the team won, I would have to cover one more game three days from now.
If the team lost, I would be free.
It was the quarter finals, the stands were so packed I had to do my reporting from the sidelines, and by golly it was the most captivating and intense basketball game I have ever watched in your life. And I realized what I had been missing about sports this entire time.
I was emotionally invested in the outcome.
In Which Colin Mansplains Sports
Now, regrettably, they actually won that game and I had to report another game, but that's aside the point.
It's absurdly simple now that I look back on it, and to look a little further, I'm going to use literary theory because I've talked too much about sports at this point.
In literature and in film, you need literary tension, otherwise it's gonna be a really really boring experience. To do that you need characters or situations that we care about, and understandable stakes. If you put a gun to a characters head, but we don't know them yet, it's not gonna do much. But if we've sympathized with a character for a while, know who they are, and want them to win, then that gun to the head creates more tension. We don't want them to die.
And that's what I was missing going into these games.
I truly didn't care about any of the teams. It didn't matter to me whether they won every game or lost every game. The game was just some weird contrived spectacle that had no effect on me.
Caring about how a team does actually made the experience exciting, especially with how close the game was. The stakes were constantly at a peak high. Frankly, it was stressful how invested I was.
I can see how parents get really invested in this sort of stuff, because the players are literally their kids, and they have to deal with them after the game, so the tension is real. As for everyone else, they tap into the 'team spirit' collective effervescence that I've never really batted an eye to.
So while I don't think I'll really ever put the effort to developing a pseudo-emotional connection to any sports team any time soon, I can at the very least understand the cultural phenomenon. I don't think it does anyone good to walk around pretentiously stating "I have absolutely no idea why anyone would enjoy anything outside of my own personal interests."
To leave you on a high note, here's a video of the Winona Senior High School mascot, the Winhawk, dancing like a true icon at a football game.
Vogue the house down, the house down.