Of Sports and Star Wars

Fans of a galaxy far, far away and professional sports aren't so different -- from a certain point of view.

Sports and Star Wars have both loomed large in my life, bringing me enormous joy, occasional misery, and uncounted hours of entertainment.

I’ve been a huge baseball fan since I was seven years old — I co-write Faith and Fear in Flushing (http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/), a blog about the hapless New York Mets, and can say with confidence that I’m one of the 500 or so biggest Mets fans in the world.

And I’ve been a huge Star Wars fan since I was eight years old — I’ve written nearly 30 Star Wars books and short stories, and can say with confidence that I’m one of the two dozen or so biggest Star Wars experts in the world.

Windham-Fett-Fry

In the Manichean view of the world as jocks vs. nerds, I’m most definitely a nerd. I figured out early that I wasn’t destined for athletic glory, or even mediocrity. And even my baseball rooting is pretty nerdy — I’m a collector of not just historical minutiae but actual baseball cards, with the same OCD impulses driving me to catalog every Met and every fictional star system.

Having a foot in the camps of sports and Star Wars has given me what I think is an interesting perspective on both tribes of fandom — and left me dismayed when they view each other with mutual myopia.

I have friends who are big baseball fans who shake their heads at the amount of time I waste reading tales about droids and Wookiees, to say nothing of writing such stories. To them this stuff is all make-believe — an occasional night at the movies is one thing, but go beyond that and you’re a dork whose childhood should have included more time playing outside.

And I have friends who are big Star Wars fans who roll their eyes that I waste evenings and afternoons glued to empty athletic spectacles. To them sports are expensive public displays of ritualized aggression — modern-day gladiatorial games designed for drunken yahoos incapable of more intellectual pursuits.

Sometimes I feel like the only person who sees just how much these two camps have in common.

Podrace Crowd

I’ve heard sports fans snicker about cosplayers, then look offended when I point out that they’re wearing the top half of a David Wright costume. They hem and haw when you note that pro athletes’ abilities, paychecks, and lifestyles make them essentially superheroes, engaged in dramas our powers only let us observe.

And Star Wars fans can miss that sports fans’ cheers or boos are reactions to stories — unscripted daily or weekly dramas that add up to longer tales chronicling seasons and epics that span decades. Being a serious sports fan demands an emotional risk, requiring you to stake your happiness on the outcome of a storyline you can neither predict nor control. That’s really not so different from being a devoted fan of a fictional franchise.

I get as emotional recalling the Grand Slam Single of Mets lore as I do hearing Han tell Luke he’s all clear. I remember obscure retired Mets such as Mike Phillips with the same affection I feel for minor Star Wars characters such as Hart-and-Parn Gorra-Fiolla. And the Mets’ boom and bust eras don’t feel that different to me than Legends’ various storytelling periods.

Rebels Edge of the Galaxy Cover

Last fall, I tried to bridge the gap with the first Star Wars novel to make sports a major part of its storyline. That led to interesting reactions from readers. I heard from fellow sports fans thrilled that the galaxy far, far away had found room for something else they love; from folks who didn’t care one way or the other; from readers who grudgingly accepted the sports scenes as part of the story; and from readers for whom the presence of sports was a deal breaker.

All fine, with the exception of one word that stuck in my craw. That’s “sportsball,” the nerd equivalent of jocks deriding Star Wars and Lord of the Rings as the same thing. Revenge for years of locker-room torments? I get it. (Believe me, I get it.) But I wish we could retire “sportsball” as an epithet — belittling and dismissive is a lousy look no matter who you are.

Besides, fellow nerds: In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve won our place at the table. As with every business on the planet, sports decisions are increasingly informed by advanced stats and scientific mindsets, and every franchise lures fans to the ballpark with a Star Wars night. Which I hope is evidence that we’re outgrowing jocks vs. nerds and discovering a world of jocks and nerds.

Boonta Eve Classic

To me, sports and space fantasy have an essential commonality. Some people’s passion is stirred by doings in a fictional universe; others respond to the deeds of a temporary assemblage of athletes. But it’s the same passion. Some folks like their drama scripted for the page or screen; others like it to emerge from a succession of plays on the athletic field. But it’s the same drama.

Whatever part of the Venn diagram is yours, I’d ask you to be kind to the folks whose passions have led them somewhere else. And here’s an invitation to hang out where the two sets intersect. Come see what all the cheering’s about. You might find it’s an interesting place indeed — or at least one that isn’t so different.

Jason Fry is the author of The Clone Wars Episode Guide and more than twenty other Star Wars books and short stories. He is also the author of The Jupiter Pirates young-adult series.

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