A Cultural Marker
Then my husband and I moved from our hometowns in Arkansas to Louisville, KY. If you know much about Kentucky, you should know that basketball is a big deal. And everyone has a team. You don’t get to not have a team. You need to stake your claim. Well, in this environment being a Razorback fan became a cultural marker for me. We weren’t Louisville or UK fans; we were Razorback fans. And it was a lot more enjoyable during football season than basketball, at least back then.
Growing up I didn’t really notice, but there weren’t a whole lot of weddings in the fall. At the time, it just felt normal but it turns out it’s because you didn’t want your wedding to have to compete with SEC football. Moving to Louisville, nobody gets married in March so they don’t have to compete with March Madness. It was a different world.
I remember our first March in Louisville, when I heard angry yelling coming across our apartment building. I was convinced someone was in a fight. My dear husband reminded me that there was a basketball tournament, and this was basketball country. Everyone was fine… sort of.
Now, living in North Carolina has a similar feel. You need to pick your team and know what side you’re on. We’re still Razorback fans, even though it’s more painful these days. But here in the Triangle there are more transplants, so many of our friends have imported their favorite team from their family history or their hometown. And the friendly rivalry that we transplants bring is one of my favorite parts of living here.
Connecting Through Sports
Inevitably, when people ask where you’re from, they connect you to a sports team. So when we meet someone new, they make a comment about how the Razorbacks didn’t do so well in football last year or ask if I’m excited they made the NCAA basketball tournament. When this first started, I would roll my eyes or say that I don’t know and don’t care, but this type of connection is growing on me.
Because that’s what it is, though I didn’t see it at first. When someone asks about “my” team, they’re trying to connect with me. It’s an easy way to make a low level connection to start a new relationship. What they’re doing is showing interest in something I might also be interested in. Instead of being annoyed about having a new sports conversation I don’t really care about, I see it as a way to connect with someone new.
I’ve also come to understand that other people really do care about these things. So while these sports conversations feel low level to me, they are more central to other people. Sports really does create a connection, and we can build a friendship from there. Talking about the Razorbacks is an easy way to have something repetitive to ask about. We can always start a conversation with sports.
So not only do I not roll my eyes when someone asks me about the Razorbacks because I’m from Arkansas, I’ve learned to enjoy it. I keep up with it enough to be able to have a short conversation about the current events. I’ve also found myself keeping up with my friends’ teams. It matters to them that Georgia won the national championship, so it matters to me too. It matters to them that Alabama didn’t make it to the top games, so it matters to me to.
These may feel like low level conversations to me, but it’s a way that I can show friends and co-workers that I care about their life and interests. So, I’m learning to care about sports as a way to love my neighbor and build community. And when I tell you I’m from Arkansas and you ask me about the Razorbacks, I’ll know that you’re doing the same.