Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be horrified – I’m a sports journalist who happens to love the arts.
Your brain is telling you that it can’t be possible – sports journo’s are vulgar and boorish, they are fabulously uncultured – famously uncultured even, their idea of art is crayons and scrap paper, playdo, lego and card tricks – It’s a fact, they have little or no interest in anything, unless there’s a scoring system and an umpire.
To get a sports journo to sit down and watch a Bergman film would require a large amount of masking tape and a shotgun. Placed firmly to the temple for the full ninety minutes. A night at the opera would require months of hypnosis – a trip to the theatre would involve blackmail – kidnapping of a loved one perhaps? – And so on and so on. We all understand the clichés – and most of the men I work with are faithful to the stereotype – but it doesn’t apply to me.
I’ve spent plenty of joyous time in both worlds. I read Russian literature, I enjoy films with subtitles, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright moves me – as do the Renaissance paintings and sublime worlds of Bach and Mozart. I understand and celebrate the profound skill and application required in producing these masterpieces – what a wonderful expression and reflection of what it is to be human – how empty the world would be without the “glory of Art”. How true this is – how very true this is… but more than a game? Not even close.
Consider Vincent’s Van Gogh’s self portrait – what wicked and wild colours, you marvel at the furious precision of his brush strokes, you stand in front of the painting and are taken to that place – you are moved, humbled, you look at his ear… and you walk on. Later in the day you talk to a friend about the painting you saw. You’re glad you’ve seen it – had the experience – you’ve had your reward. You feel good. You feel – although it is difficult to articulate – you feel more connected. But ladies and gentleman as with all things there are degrees – degrees of satisfaction and degrees of reward –
Place: Docklands Stadium.
Time: One week ago.
Game Time: Final quarter – 10 minutes in, North Melbourne up by 30.
Emotional state: Fragile… more chance of Eddie McGuire playing the leading man in the Nutcracker Suite with the touring Bolshoi ballet than the Crows getting themselves out of this mess.
At least that’s what you’d think I’d be thinking – but oh how wrong you would be, for this is the theatre of dreams we’re talking about – a place where, experience tells me, the impossible can be made possible.
I sat back in my seat, closed my eyes and channeled the 1997 Preliminary Final. The Crows scored 4 goals in 11 minutes. I still have hope. It’s illogical and even I, a certified Adelaide Crows tragic, know I am stretching my belief – but it’s there, kicking furiously, trying to stay afloat.
Open my eyes – back to the game: The first goal lessens my near permanent grimace. The second does weird things to my face – I catch a young fan looking at me with fear in his eyes. I try to pacify him with a smile – it doesn’t work.
The third goal causes heart palpitations.
The fourth goal goes in and I’m vaguely aware of screaming sounds coming out of my mouth – they make no sense to me but at this point I know I have no control – I’m also punching the air. Hard. With both fists. My hearing is starting to go.
With sixteen seconds left Jarryd Petrenko scores the match-winning goal. I am aware of tears and aware of the fact I have started doing a strange dance, my head has departed from my shoulders and floated off into the ether – I’ve started hugging people. Strangers. My heart hurts – but feels magnificent.
There, in that final relentlessly entertaining, nail biting, and hellishly bottom- clenching quarter, is a lesson in emotional power, in human creativity, and in the majesty of sport. What adrenaline overload. What pure unadulterated joy. It has carried me through the week. I’m still on a natural high – no peptides required. I still get chills when I revisit it in my head. How can this just be a game? This is not just a game. This is more rewarding in ways that art can never be.
It’s too easy to dismiss sport as just a game when, for some of us the emotional connection goes way beyond that. I don’t think even the most passionate art lover would dance and wail and whoop and holler and scream and sing with quite the same conviction as I did last Sunday – actually if you were at a recital, a theatre or museum and you saw someone responding to what they were viewing with the same enthusiasm you’d call security and make a bee line for the exit doors.
We know art has the capacity to inspire and bring about change but so does sport. We, as a nation, suffer from appalling obesity – sport offers our children a healthier future, it inspires us to get off our backsides and be active – sport inspires us full stop.
Inspiration is a big deal. Inspiration gets things done.
Sport brings with it hope.
Bruce Dawe knew it – he wrote a poem about our obsession with Australian Rules called Life Cycle.
They will not grow old as those from more northern states grow old;
For them it will always be three quarter time
With the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term.
Sport helps shape pubic opinion, Nicky Winmar raising his jumper and pointing, Adam Goodes’ strength, dignity and compassion in the face of terrible wrongdoings. People need heroes and heroines. Men, women, boys and girls need heroes and heroines. Adam Goodes is a hero.
Muhammad Ali. Jessie Owens. Billie Jean King. Ayrton Senna. Ron Barrasi. Usain Bolt. Donald Bradman. Do you remember where you were when Cathy Freeman won gold in Sydney – I bet you do. I bet you still get tingles when you see the footage.
Don’t tell me this is just a game.