Just read a passionate piece from John Stern on the NFL. Ah – now, no sooner have I finished that sentence than I’m already feeling uncomfortable over its accuracy: is it NFL, or the NFL?
See, this is my ignorance and my own shame, made all the more acute given I work for the American sport colossus, ESPN. I really know nothing of any note about American sports and, what’s worse, my indifference towards it has morphed to dislike and dismissiveness. It’s not that I don’t appreciate its skill; what little I know of it has dispelled that particular nugget of ignorance. And it’s certainly not that I wouldn’t enjoy it myself if I spent time getting to know it. No. I think it may actually be a form of anxiety.
To be a sport fan, or sports fan as my American employer insists it is spelled, requires dedication to the cause and an unwavering loyalty, but you can only reach that level of commitment once you’ve mastered how it all works. The nuances of its rules, the lingo, the exceptions, history and form – never mind all the teams and players, and associated statistics. And it’s those two things which I’m most fearful of: if I did spend time getting under the skin of an American sport, or any other sport for which I’m not familiar, I worry that I could become almost hyper obsessed with it.
It happened with cricket, albeit when I was 12, and I’m definitely nowhere near that age now. But it could easily happen again, and John makes a compelling case for NFL to be my victim. Or me to be its, depending on the outcome. It’s also worth pointing out that American sport in the UK is a far, far bigger beast than you think. In 2004 Google says it was indexed at 21 (whatever that is). In 2014? It’s 100. The interest has gone up five fold.
I used to work with John when he was editor of The Wisden Cricketer magazine, and remember being starstruck when introduced to him on my first day working for Cricinfo (whose office we all shared) in 2005. I’d read TWC and its former incarnations since I was 12. He couldn’t have been more diffident or affable, yet here I was expecting a larger-than-life media mogul who also had a vast cricketing knowledge; a combination of Piers Morgan’s bluster and blind confidence, and anyone who appeared on Mastermind in the 1980s (bespectacled, lack of social skills yet absolutely obsessed with their subject).
Disappointingly I got neither, just a top bloke, writer and editor.