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The Sports Story

I’ve never gotten along with sports, and perhaps I never will

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by Mike Paulus

This is a story I love to tell. I end up telling it all the time. At the bar. At parties and get-togethers. In the car and at family gatherings. In awkward conversations with people I hardly know while waiting for some kind of baked chicken to be served at a wedding reception.

I reference this story at least once a year in these very pages, and anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me has probably heard it. The story is my go-to personal anecdote when I need to say something brief and funny about myself (which, according to my wife, is all the damn time).

It involves sports.

Here’s the short version: I quit Little League so I could stay home and watch Heathcliff cartoons.

The slightly longer version: In the mid 80s, Little Mikey Paulus was enrolled in a Little League-like tee ball league. I didn’t like it very much. One summer day before practice, motivated by a mixture of general sports-related dread and the overwhelming need to watch that afternoon’s episode of Heathcliff and the Cadillac Cats, I asked my mom if I could quit. She said OK. And I didn’t participate in an organized sport for another three or four years.

I’m not sure why my mom let me quit. There must have been tense words behind my back when my dad got home, but if there were any parental attempts to get me back on the tee ball field, I can’t remember them. So that was it. Later in life, I played football throughout middle school and into high school, and I’ve even got one season of seventh grade basketball under my belt. But honestly? I never enjoyed any of it.

To this day, I’m filled with an unmistakable cocktail of dread and anxiety whenever I walk into a high school gym or onto a baseball field. I’ve just never felt comfortable playing sports. It can’t have anything to do with my lack of athletic ability, because I have no problem completely missing the hoop/goal/glove/dartboard/whatever, and I don’t mind losing. Unless the game is just for fun (or the action takes place near a cooler full of beer), I simply don’t like it.

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