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Bob Ryan

Among entertainment options, sports is the real thing

Scott Barbour/Getty

The World Series is upon us. The NFL season nears the halfway mark. The NHL is under way. Soon the NBA games will be for real.

College football has never been more popular, and we all await the selection of the four teams that will make up the first true big-time playoff competition. MLS is gearing up for its own playoffs. NASCAR heads toward its own rip-roaring season’s conclusion. The new PGA season has begun. Somewhere on the globe, there is a professional tennis tournament unfolding at this very moment, perhaps even in Antarctica (What? You’ve never heard of the McMurdo Sound Open?)


College hockey, God love it, is already under way. By the time it ends, the 2015 baseball season will be two weeks along. The basketballs are bouncing in collegiate gyms all over America. Everywhere you look, from the farthest reaches of Alaska to Key West, high schools are engaged in all sorts of activities.

Sports, sports, sports . . .

We are a sports-loving planet.

So it is an appropriate time for us to pause in silent prayer for those forlorn, pitiable people among us who — yes, I know this is almost impossible for you and me to comprehend — are NOT sports fans. I mean, how sad is that?

Yes, I know how this sounds. But I’m serious. It’s not like I haven’t given this a lot of thought.

Think about it: Under the general umbrella of ways to entertain ourselves during our leisure hours, it pretty much breaks down as follows: reading, film, theater, art, music, dance . . . and sport.

I’m not talking about hobbies such as stamp collecting, or any kind of collecting. I’m not talking about video games. That’s different.

I think you know what I’m talking about, and I think I have identified the primary seven ways the preponderance of people spend their leisure hours.


To lead a truly well-rounded life, I believe you need all of these things. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

I cannot imagine life without reading. I just got through some epic back-to-back-to-back-to-back workout reading. It began with Terry Teachout’s biography of Duke Ellington. That checked in at 464 pages, which includes a lengthy must-read “source notes.” I followed that up with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit.” That went 750 pages, not including lengthy footnoting that pushed it up to a staggering 867. Then came Adam Begley’s biography of John Updike, which was a minuscule 486 pages. Next, I got around to Seth Davis’s John Wooden bio, which he brought home in 525 pages.

Needing the equivalent of a layup drill, I am currently working on a paperback version of Daniel James Brown’s acclaimed “The Boys in the Boat,” an account of the 1936 Olympic gold medal eight-man crew from the University of Washington. Hey, I can do 370 pages standing on my head.

I certainly don’t have to explain an interest in movies. That’s pretty much universal in our society. Theater likewise needs no explanation.

As for art, I’m no expert, but I happen to be a complete sucker for Impressionists. I kinda dig Edward Hopper and the Wyeths (Andrew and Jamie), too.

Music? I mean, come on. That may be the most universal love of all. As for dance, I grew up as a fan of tap dancers, and I am a devotee of the Astaire-Rogers musicals. And guess what? You can spend worse evenings than a few hours at the ballet, and not just “The Nutcracker.”


As a general rule, no fair-minded person knocks anyone for having an interest in any of those disciplines. But any of us who happen to have sport on our list of entertainment pursuits? Oh, that’s often a very different matter. Sport is fair game for the close-minded.

Well, here’s a fact. Take it from one who has partaken in each of the other pursuits during this calendar year: Sport pushes a button inside us that creates a different surge of excitement than could ever be provided by any of the others. That feeling is separate and distinct and is absolutely unavailable in any of the other endeavors.

I always laugh when someone trots out that ridiculous idea that “sports” and “entertainment” are the same thing. They might be second cousins, but they are hardly the same thing.

Any excitement generated by a movie thriller or theater drama is tempered by the fact that when it is all said and done, the participants are actors. A film or play might reenact actual events, but what you have just seen is a simulation and not the real thing.

When you go to a sporting event, you are observing and experiencing real people, in real time, engaged in competition. Competition! The one guarantee of a sporting event is that you enter into it not knowing the outcome, and this in itself creates a tension and curiosity that separate it from all the other forms of entertainment.


As far as concerts and other musical performances are concerned — and I’ve been to my share — I think I speak for most people when I say that we do not go to hear a favorite artist wanting surprises. We want to hear the numbers played the way we want to hear them played.

In any event, sport produces a feeling that no concert ever has or will give us. There is no other entertainment option comparable to tie score, bases loaded, two outs, 3 and 2 in the ninth; score tied, fourth and goal; score tied, clock ticking down, ball in hands of a basketball maestro; Stanley Cup hockey overtime; or any of the other sports situations to which we bring all our personal experience and knowledge of history, all of which create either the dry throat or the sweaty palm.

Sport gives us countless moments when we feel truly alive in a way that, for example, gazing at your favorite painting simply does not. Gazing at your favorite painting (for me, that means any of a number of Monets) is thoroughly enjoyable, but an entirely different sensation altogether than watching Larry Bird throw a blind pass to a cutting Dennis Johnson, or vice versa.

Any number of great artists and musicians know this. I was greeted one day last week with an e-mail from renowned concert violinist Arturo Delmoni that said, simply, “HOW ’BOUT THEM COWBOYS!!!!” This man has been a devoted follower of the Celtics for more than 40 years. He gets it.


I feel sorry for anyone who has never enjoyed a great concert or never been to the MFA.

I feel even sorrier for someone who does not have sport on his or her entertainment menu.

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at