Good Sport

     I remember the first time Christopher showed up. I didn’t know him; he was a friend of someone’s, I guess. One of the guys invited him down to The Place, where we used to hang out and watch sports.
     The dude was different, and I can’t say I liked him. Mostly he was just kinda quiet, and that right there was enough to bug me. We’d score or something, y’know, and he’d usually just sit there. I wondered what he was doing hanging around anyhow, if he didn’t like sports any more than that.  I liked him even less the first time I saw he was for the other guys. Not that he showed it much. But he’d smile, lean back, and clap a couple times when they’d make a shot. I was glad when we ended up winning. Chris didn’t seem too ticked about it. Me, I’d have been depressed for a week if my team was out of the playoffs.
     It got worse, man, when summer came around. I wasn’t really into the Tour, but it was on, and if it was sports and it was on, well, we’d watch it. And even I knew who you were supposed to stand behind in the Tour. Everyone knew, right? I mean, come on!
     But not Chris. That goofball is sitting over across the booth, pulling for some European guy with a name no one watching can even say, except maybe him. I thought he was stupid, and dropped a few comments to let him know it. He didn’t seem to pick up on them, though. Didn’t surprise me. I tell you, he lived in another world, that guy.
     It went on like that through the year, until finally winter came, and the Olympics. Now I admit it, the Olympics always got me a bit teary-eyed, what with the ceremony and the outfits and all that, y’know? I figured this time, Chris would get his head screwed on and do right. “Everybody knows you gotta stand up and be proud for the colors,” I thought. “No matter what.”
     So it was the last straw when some bunch of guys I figured for commies took us out in the medal round. I don’t even know if I’d ever seen their flag before. One of ‘em – don’t ask me which ‘cause they were all the same to me – put away the game winner in the last few seconds. And Chris actually goes, “Oh yeah!” It might have been the first time I ever noticed him cheer out loud, and at a time like that! I lost it, and I let him have a piece of my mind for everybody to hear.
     “Dude, what’s your problem?” I said. “You’re always siding with the wrong team. Don’t you even know where you are? You’re hanging out here all the time, always cheering for some no-name loser, and now you’re against your own country!”
     Since he was such a quiet guy, I figured he’d just sink down in his chair and hide like the mole I thought he was. But he didn’t. He looked me square in the eye and answered. He wasn’t as loud as I was and he didn’t lose his temper. But he didn’t mince words, either.
     “To tell you the truth, I’ve been cheering on the same team every night I’ve been here.”
     Now about this time I started thinking maybe he was even a bit loony, since we’d not only been watching different teams, but different sports, for almost a year. But he wasn’t done yet:
     “You remember that playoff game? The starting forward has never been called for a technical in his entire playing career. I’ve read his interviews, and he’s always respectful of his coaches and the referees. He was one of a few who spoke against the players’ strike; he said he didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds him. He believes he has a responsibility to be a good role model for the kids who watch.”
     He was on thin ice now, since more than a few of us were union men at the time (myself included), and it seemed like he might have been knocking on us - although I'd heard he was a working man too, so I didn’t know for sure. Anyways, I figured, “who picks his team because the players are ‘respectful’?” That seemed pretty idiotic to me. Then he went on some more.
     “And that guy I was for in the Tour? He’s got a nine year old kid who’s disabled. So for the last few years he’s volunteered about a hundred hours a year at his kid’s school, helping with all the disabled kids.”
     I piped up then. “A lot of those guys give something to charity! They show it right there on TV. Hey, I put a few bucks into the red bucket at the holidays myself.” I wanted the guys at the table to know I had a heart.
     Chris answered, “I’m not talking about some extra money, or just some time when it’s convenient for him and when there are cameras around. This guy makes it a priority, and he has for years. He gives his best. And no one would have ever known about it, except that one of the teachers at the school went and told the local news. Plus, he says he prays for his kid. He says he believes in miracles.”
     Some of the people in The Place were starting to look over. I felt weird when he said that last bit. It didn’t seem appropriate, considering where we were. I thought people ought to keep that spiritual stuff at church, not at a sports place. But now Chris was building up steam.
     “Let me tell you about that hockey player who scored the last goal. He plays pro, too. And he’s been faithful to his wife for ten years. A lot of those athletes go on the road and do whatever they feel like. Either they cheat, or they’ll go to some ‘gentleman’s club’ or whatever. They say, ‘I can look, I just can’t touch,’ or something like that. But this guy says he wants to trust his wife, so he makes sure she can trust him.”
     “Man, so what?!” I wasn’t sure what else to say by then. All I knew what that these seemed like pretty dumb reasons for a guy to pick his favorite athletes. Besides, the whole thing was getting embarrassing – him talking about love and stuff. I wished he’d shut up, but I guess I was the one who got him going.
     “So, these guys are all on the team I’m pulling for. They’re all on the same team. Their uniform just isn’t as obvious to some people.”
     I figured he meant me, and that it wasn’t a compliment. I was thinking, “God help me, I want to clock him.” Something kept me from doing it though. I looked around. The other guys were listening, laughing or just shaking their heads. I thought Chris was a bozo, and I told him so.
     “You’re a bozo, Chris, and I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I flipped my cap around and sat down at another table. Of course I had to bump into it, too, spilling drinks and peanuts everywhere.
     I didn’t say anything else about it, and neither did he. But he didn’t change, either. He still showed up now and again to watch sports, and still mostly cheered for guys I thought were weirdos. After a while, I guess he must’ve gotten work someplace else, and moved away.
     Well, a few years have passed since then, and I’ve been thinking about the stuff he said. See, my favorite infielder got busted for drugs the season after Chris left. Threw his career away. And this basketball player that everyone thought was so great – he got drafted right out of high school – he drove drunk and ran into someone… paralyzed the guy. And he pled not guilty, and won! Can you believe that? I don’t care if he was a star on the national team. He made it so some poor guy can’t walk, and he gets to walk free. I think that stinks.
     Finally, the quarterback who was my hero since I was in school dumped his wife and kids for some barfly or reality show star or something. Man, I used to have his posters all over my wall. Nothing made me madder than that, ‘cause now I’m married, and I’ve got a little girl who’s so sweet! You should see her. What kind of man could do something like that? When I heard about it on SportsCap, I actually said out loud, “What a loser!” And right then, everything Chris said at The Place came back to me. I found those posters out in the garage, and I ripped ‘em up and tossed ‘em.
     And now when I remember Chris, I think maybe he wasn’t such a bozo after all. Maybe he knew something.
     Christopher, buddy – wherever you are, I wish you well.
 
(Mark 3:31-35)