Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How To Talk Sports (When You Don't Know Jack About Sports)

Turns out someone over at The Huffington Post reads The Nerduary as I was invited by Huff Post Live to participate in an on-air segment based on this article. Check out the interview here.

I’m not a sports guy. I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried. I played baseball (okay, T-ball) and soccer as a child, a little intermural football (2 games) in college, and bowling (not actually a real sport). Every few years I try to get into football, both college and professional. I try. I really, really try. But, alas, it never sticks. Unfortunately for me, a lot conversation between adults revolves around touchdowns, goals, and other synonyms for scoring.

 As unfortunate as it may be, workplace conversation rarely turns to the latest issue of Iron Man or which actor played best The Doctor. When it comes to small talk, geeks are at a severe disadvantage (unless, of course, you're that odd geek who actually likes sports). 

But fear not! Over the years, despite knowing precisely jack and shit about sports, I’ve managed to be an integral part of many a sports conversation. How, you ask? It’s actually easier than you think if you remember a few key phrases…

1) “He’s a Good Player”- If you remember nothing else from this list, remember this one. “He’s a good player” will become the most versatile tool in your toolbox. Carry this one close, and you’ll be like Macgyver when it comes to any conversation revolving around athletic competitions. Why? Because sports conversations inevitably boil down to talking about specific players and chances are, the player in question is, in fact, good. He may be hated. He may be divisive. But if he’s managed to reach the professional or collegiate level of competition, you can be assured someone will agree that he is a good player. And in the off chance the player in question is not actually good? Repeat it again, only this time really, really, sarcastically. Everyone has a good laugh and you’re recognized for your keen insights and quick wit. But what if someone wants specifics? What if someone wants to know why, exactly, he’s a good player? In that case drop…

2) “He has a lot of heart”- There’s a reason heart was included amongst The Planeteers. People universally love the idea of heart, maybe none so much as sports fans. Heart is a way of saying losers are worth rooting for. Heart is what gets Rudy Ruetigger paid on the motivational speech circuit. When someone asks why an athlete is “a good player” as you say, invoke heart. Heart makes the shittiest player beloved, and a lack of heart can vilify the greatest. Why is a he a good player? Because he has heart, that’s why.

3) “Their Defense Could Be Tighter”- If you’ve chosen to engage in a sports-centric conversation, there will come a time when someone will ask your thoughts on a specific team. This is tricky, because you can’t just drop “They’re a good a team” as the team may well be shit. Your first inclination will be to be panic as you don’t know one athlete from another, let alone what teams they're playing for. But no worries, as you’ve got “their defense could be tighter.” This is perfect as it’s not only noncommittal, but it’s also true. Unless the Patriots have recruited the 300 Spartans, no one has a perfect defense. No one. And even the most passionate team follower will have to admit that, yes, as perfect as the home team is, their defense could indeed be tighter. Alternately, you could turn to…

"Come lads! It's 4th and 10, the bases are loaded and the 2-minute warning has just sounded... or you know... something like that!"

4) “Their Offense Could Use Some Work”- See the last explanation as everything, including the bit about the 300 Spartans, still applies.

5) “That Was Something Else”- Still in the conversation? Well, now things are going to get a little bit trickier. Because if you’ve done your job right, folks now think you’re avid. Now, they’re going to ask your thoughts on specific games and maybe even plays. Most posers start to fall apart at this point. Was it a big game? Did something out of the ordinary happen? Did a tiger get loose on the field? What the hell were they even playing? Don’t panic! And for the love of God, don’t try to patch together what happened, at least not blindly. When someone asks about last night’s game, simply say “that was something else.” “Something else” can mean so many things! It can mean you did see that spectacular play! It can mean you did see that astounding snafu! It can mean you watched in awe at the sheer professionalism and skill on display right there on your television or it can mean it was boring as hell! “That was something else” is more a trigger than anything else, as those in the conversation actually interested in sports will agree with you and start recounting the events that transpired that you in no way saw.

Eventually, though, it will happen. Someone will be onto you. Someone will figure out you’re talking out of your ass and want to call you out. Not only that, but this asshole will want to embarrass you in the process. What then? Is there a weapon in your new arsenal designed specifically to scorch the Earth (and possibly a friendship)? The answer is “yes” and it’s as easy as…

6) “You’re a racist”- Confusing or not knowing the details has been the downfall of many a sports poser and nothing screams you don’t know shit like not knowing a player’s race and/or ethnicity. “Oh, he’s a ‘good player’ is he? Then what color is he?” Yes, as a fan, this should come easy you. But you’re not a fan. But they might be a racist. Call them to task on it. Ask them what race has to do with the game in the first place. Accuse them of letting outdated mindsets cloud their love of the game. Tell them they're part of the problem and proof positive that as a country, we still have such a long way to go. Then, politely recuse yourself from the conversation and walk away. You're now not only known as a passionate sports fan but a man (or woman) of conviction and high moral fiber. 

Respect all around.


  1. This man speaks truth. I won't say "always speaks truth." But

    I have witnessed the master in action. His secret? Delivery. I won't lie, it takes practice to get the timing and sincerity correct. But the Sensei has it down. Even those "in the know" can be fooled by his "knowledge" of sports, enough for this master of words to steer the conversation to something much more exciting.

    Like Politics. Or Religion.

  2. Sir, thank you for the ringing endorsement of not only me, but of The System. It works, people and here's the proof.

  3. As your friend, I must warn you that in baseball, we really don't say "offense" and "defense." So if you think you might be watching baseball, I'd avoid #3 and #4. Just trying to help my fellow nerds out. :0

  4. As a legitimate sports fan who has some knowledge of geekdom, I could offer you some more tips if you're really interested in treading water when the convo turns to football anyway.

    "How about the push up the middle"

    We're getting into dirty territory if you want to take it there, but this is a great catch-all. It could refer to the effort of the offense or defense at the line of scrimmage. It could pertain to them really sucking or really dominiating.

    "Those refs, man"

    Everyone always thinks they're getting screwed by the referees so this works well.

    "We are playing so well right now(in a somewhat sarcastic tone)"

    Well, it's pretty self-explanatory. If we are playing well, the sarcasm will be missed. If we aren't, then it wont.



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