Thursday, October 23, 2014 • 11:07
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I Kid You Not: learning to love sports in a tough economy



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July 17, 2013
I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the economy is still in pretty bad shape.

"The economy" has been a phrase we say with frowning mouths and sadly-shaking heads for so long now that it seems like things have always been this way. It seems kind of impossible that 2003 was ten years ago, but those carefree, glory days seem like a distant memory filled with 50 Cent songs and Microsoft WordArt as far as the eye could see.

These days, the ongoing struggles of the economy are all but inescapable, from the depressing news every hour on television to the oddly patronizing car commercials peppered into another can't-miss sitcom about an overweight guy and his impossibly attractive wife.

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Money is tight, people are finding newer and newer ways to save money, and we're all going through the ongoing process of redefining what truly constitutes a "need."

It's no different on the sports page. Since baseball season started, many teams are finding it extremely difficult to fill the seats. Jersey sales are down across all the major sports, although there are several murder-investigation-related reasons why that could be the case in the NFL right now. Even the NHL and NBA playoffs felt squeeze of our country's collective belt-tightening. We've been in this mess for so long that we don't even notice how bad things are anymore.

I agree with those who say that it's a shame that our sports have to suffer the negative effects of a recession. Sports are great. They're fun to watch, they provide conversation starters at otherwise-awkward social gatherings initiated by one's socially-adept wife, and they give us something to shoot for when we decide to Febreeze off the old soccer shin guards and try to suit up on a Saturday afternoon.

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In the realm of professional sports, I follow my teams with an excitement and joy that most people usually reserve for loved ones, or at least a really special pet. When the Miami Dolphins lose (which isn't happening as much as it used to!), I tend to have a pretty bad week, at least until Thursday when I can start looking ahead to the next game. When Jimmie Johnson dominates for another win (Daytona sweep!), I walk around with a little extra spring in my step. And when the Padres win a meaningless game in June, I get to celebrate with my Padre-fan friends like they just won the World Series. Hang in there, Padres fans. It has to get better sometime, right?

Basically, I guess I'm saying that sports are a big part of my life, for better or worse.

But I guess that's the point—sports aren't always for better. They can help us get through things, like they did following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. They can bring people together, like they did in the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's big win over the Russians at Lake Placid. And they can inspire, like they do every time you see Willie Mays Hayes score on Jake Taylor's surprise bunt to help the Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees. I don't care if that's from a movie, I still get a little misty-eyed when Corbin Bernsen slugs Charlie Sheen, then helps him back up and hugs him.

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At the same time, though, sports are still just entertainment. In times when a few extra dollars mean the difference between making rent and getting tossed out onto the street, it hardly seems prudent to spend $7.50 for a hot dog at your local ball park. For that matter, it doesn't make all that much sense to spend the $15–$50 for the seat to begin with.

I guess what it comes down to is that sports aren't bad—overpriced professional sports are bad.

It may not be as flashy, and there may not be a gigantic video screen blocking out the noonday sun, but watching the Valley Center Jaguars play seven innings is a great way to spend an afternoon. Wrapping up in a couple blankets to come out and support the Lady Jaguars on the lacrosse field is just as fulfilling as (if not more fulfilling than) peering through your binoculars to see if Kobe Bryant was the one who just sank that shot at the Staples Center.

In short, sports really do help. They are a great way to spend time with the important people in your life. They can be a wonderful distraction after a tough day at work. And if nothing else, it's just fun to whoop and holler like you're nine years old again.

But before you take out another mortgage to take the family to a big league game, consider some more wallet-friendly options here in your own back yard, like a youth soccer match, or an Avengers rugby game, or even a round of disc golf on the local Community Church course (which is free and open to the public!).

You may have to go outside (scary, I know), but least you won't have to sit through any more car commercials.

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