The Birdcage Archives

Saturday 13 May 2017

On The Unique Culture of Sports

Hello Gentle Reader,

Working night’s dictates you walk home in the dark, which always allows plenty of time for reflection and speculation. Tonight there was a slight drizzle in the air – a delayed April shower, but how everything is radiating and come alive with the fresh green appearance of spring, who has bud and leafed.

On this particular walk home, I was able to reflect on a rather peculiar shift. I make no qualm or secret about the fact, I work part time at two jobs, while at a snail’s pace I complete my university studies. One of my part time jobs is a live theatre (on an extreme part time basis), where I handle front of house matters, i.e. tickets, customer service et cetera; while the other job I work in three different hockey rinks dealing with Zamboni, customer service and janitorial duties. I was a never a sport minded child, or took any interest in it. Of course in my childhood I played poorly organized and coached soccer (for European readers: Football), before I left it behind at the age of seven. I never learned to swim – now much to my more mature self’s dismay and disappointment (hindsight is always twenty/twenty). To be honest, as a child I was imaginative, shy and reserved. I lurked, slinked, and sleuthed about, always avoiding the company of other children; preferring the company of myself, and the imaginative worlds I would craft; which had yet to find a more literary output for, in which case I resigned myself to tell my own stories, scoffing at the books presented to me (reading for me Gentle Reader, was a late love affair).

Now though Gentle Reader, I have the unique position, to be a complete alien in a world of team sports and competitive spirit, and sportsmanship – a real sense of camaraderie and connection though the act of physical action, sport and competitive drive; all in good nature and enjoyment it appears. I watch how hockey players work to pass the puck to score; defend the net from the opponent, through measures such as checking. I observe figure skaters twirl, fly, do an axel, and dance with their partners. Yet, most of the time I do not admire these acts of technical physical skill or the pure athleticism in which they are displayed. Rather my time is further spent, hollering at them to get out of the dressing rooms, or not to shoot pucks in the dressing rooms, or down the halls, or in the lobby. More often than not, my role is both patrolling police officer of the rink, and then the poor unfortunate cleaner, who  is left to deal with the mess in which they leave in their wake: chew on the floor (or on the ceiling), spit on the floor, tape balls, spilled bear, tipped over garbage cans; the list is endless. With the infuriated patience of the unappreciated mother, I clean it up regardless; although cussing the entire time.

Through, what is called: “The Season,” which starts from the end of August and ends at either the beginning of March or end of March; I see nothing but hockey, figure skating and ringette – predominately hockey. Yet now as the season has ended the players and athletes, now move on to either enjoy their new found freedom or to other sports; while the dedicated few stay for what is called ‘Spring Hockey,’ – which are camps, which focus on refining or developing skills. It is now, that I am readily acquainted with the other sports which take place within the recreation complex.

The field houses were packed with lacrosse players, the basketball courts filled with a hodge podge of amateur players, playing just a good old game of basketball, the pool was packed with swimmers either in a practice or a meet, and the rinks filled with spring hockey camps.

Parking is not in a surplus, because parking lots do not make money, and are considered on most accounts, a waste of space. So different athletes park behind the rinks. For the most part I can tell who goes where. Lacrosse players and hockey players are interchangeable, only specifically identifiable by their different sticks; basketball players come as any other patron, and as far as I could tell, I wouldn’t be able to pin point or identify any swimmer if I tried.

The night progressed as usual. Flood rooms flood. I had to tell a few lacrosse players to leave the rink, as it’s not appreciated when they shoot their balls against the walls or the rink glass. As the night progresses, the groups get older, and the older they get, the longer they take to get out of the rooms. As I wait for the final groups to leave the rooms, I resign myself to the lobby where it’s at least warmer to wait. A few basketball players or gym patrons walk by as they go to head out to the parking lot. Now and then a lacrosse player strolls by with his bag over his shoulder; but for the most part the building seems to be quieting down. I hear more footsteps approach. The clink of dress shoes, and flip flop sandals, swatting at the heels of someone else. I at the moment pay no mind, as I sit on a bench waiting patiently with my eyes closed. Then I hear the footsteps stop, and two people sit down across from me, and open my eyes. In front of me sits a father and son. The father a lithe man in dress pants, dress shirt and the dress shoes, which I hear moments before. The son at least seventeen or eighteen, hair wet, dressed in a t-shirt, but at first glance appeared naked. The son keen to see my surprised face, and burning face, lifted his t-shirt to reveal he was wearing a speedo. His father noticed his son lifting his shirt to reveal his attire quickly commented:

“Why don’t you put on some shorts or something? You gave him a heart attack.”

His son replied: “Because my suit is still wet. Besides it’s just a swim suit.”

To which his father replied: “Well, why didn’t you bring a change of clothes.”

The son responded with the facts: “Because [the other brother’s name] was going to be late for hockey practice, if I didn’t hurry up. So I just put on my suit and put some shorts over top. I usually don’t bring clothes to change in. I’ve come home, just in a shirt and swim briefs before and you don’t say anything. But right now my car is pooched, so I had to get a ride with you [and the other brother’s name].”

The father of course could only respond with a sigh of slight irritation, and the son stood up and began to pace. At least though while he stood, it could be seen he was wearing something. Which only appeared to provoke his father to comment further.

“Why don’t you just sit down or wrap a towel around yourself.”

Which the song replied: “Dad it’s just a swim suit, I wear them to practice and compete in. You’ve seen me wear them before.”

To which his father replied: “we’re in public.”

At which point I interjected to inform both father and son, it was quite alright with what he was wearing at least he was dressed; besides I said the hockey players have walked around without their jerseys or pads on; in this place no one is shy of showing flesh.

A few hockey players began to leave and saw the swimmer and chuckled, after which a few lacrosse players passed by and said not a word but smiled and kept turning around to look and nudge each other, until one father or coach told them to knock it off and be respectful. Then silence once again. The swimmer sat down on the bench, pulled his shirt up to once again reveal his speedo, and sighed with irritation at being forced to wait; while his father began to vigorously tap his foot in impatience. The irritation between the two was static in the air, and attempting to quell the situation, I told the father I gave the players a warning to hurry up a few minutes ago, and that they shouldn’t be much longer. He only nodded his head in thanks.  Silence then fell once again again, as each of us waited for the same thing. After a while footsteps could be heard coming down the hall from the pool and field houses; the familiar sound of flip flops and the squeak of sneakers. A herd of lacrosse players walked by, without saying a word, followed by a small group of male swimmers, each simply dressed in either a track jacket or a t-shirt and their individual speedos. Noticing a fellow swimmer, they stopped and talked in a group, while the dad just looked and shook his head before stating:

“Don’t any of you wear shorts or something?” To which one of them replied, much like earlier, “it’s just a swim suit.” and they we’re all on their way to the cars anyway. At last more hockey players left, some whistled at the guys and giggled amongst themselves, while the swimmers ignored them. A few more minutes passed, and the swimmers chatted amongst themselves, when finally the coaches and the final hockey players left the room and the rink into the lobby, which included the other or rather younger brother of the swimmer, who was embarrassed by his brother wearing only a speedo, before shrugging it off in front of his friends. At this point swimmers and hockey players intermingled for just a few moments, before I politely told them it was time for me to lock up.

I watched the group leave through the door, and could only think what a strange universe this is to me. How the lacrosse players and hockey players arrive in their street clothes and change into their sweat saturated hockey gear; after their practice they shower and change once again, before packing up their gear in their bags which are slung over their shoulders. While on the contrary, the swimmers arrive in street clothes, with their backpacks, but leave in their small little speedos, which they appear to proudly claim is just a swim suit, and head out for the night, backpack slung over their shoulders, flip flops smacking at their heels.

Despite their shared commonality of completive spirit, sportsmanship, goodwill through competition, athleticism and the shared unity of team work and camaraderie; different sports are filled with their own unique cultures and idiosyncrasies. Hockey players trash, smell, spit, and cuss. Lacrosse players it appears are no different. The basketball players come and go without much notice. While the swimmers appear confident or at least slightly exhibitionist.

Though I’ve been in the rinks for many years now, I am still alien and out of place within it. Though I do the job, the culture – or rather the subcultures of recreation and sports. I view myself as some form of anthropologist or objective academic or scientist, observing the cultural discrepancies and intercultural exchange, with boy a curious eye and with great confusion, in an attempt to understand this foreign world.

I have viewed for a long time that sports and athletic pursuits, where inclined to those of higher energy people, who lacked intellectual curiosities (though this has been proven to be wrong), but also people who lack creativity or cultured pursuits (also proven wrong).  This being said: though I have painted with a broad brush prior, and have been proven wrong to my early adjudication and convictions, they have also been proven right as well.

As I finish my university work and continue to supplement my income between the two jobs, I gaze with unique fasciation at the world I am now becoming privy to. It’s strange and baffling, yet unique and odd at the same time. I often think of Elfriede Jelinek’s “Sports Play,” while observing it, in which she discusses sports and competition, as akin to fasciat ideology to a degree, and human cultures or individual desires, to be a part of a herd, a group, a sports team and a nation – in other words it’s the human desire to be a part of a larger collective. The play also focuses on today’s culture which is obsessed with the human body, the ideal concept of beauty, and fitness. Perhaps Jelinek has some merit in her critical social observations.

For the time being I cannot comment, as I am just beginning to find myself more aware and open to view the different cultures orbit each other, within the space of the recreation center, from the sweat saturated and destructive hockey players, to the arrogant lacrosse players, to the speedo clad exhibitionist swimmers. If at the end of today – after my walk home and reflection – that I learned anything from today: it’s just a swimsuit – and confidence  is something which must be radiated with a great deal of apathy and understatement.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary 

No comments:

Post a Comment