Fall is a great time to be an American sports fan. Football is back. Baseball’s playoff races are heating up and the World Series is only a few weeks away. The Basketball and Hockey seasons just around the corner, bringing hope for the new season.
Sports talk serves the same function as “small talk."
It’s a time when many guys become chatty. Having been fairly quiet through the summer, sports gives them something to talk about. Fantasy leagues add to and extend the conversations, taking it beyond favored teams and giving him one version of “skin in the game.”
Asking how his team is doing allows him to express happiness, joy, excitement, sadness, and concern in ways he might not be comfortable doing for other parts of his life.
For many guys, talking sports is the easiest and best way to have social contact with other guys. Social contact is incredibly important: we are an inherently social species whose members do poorly when isolated for extended periods of time, which is why solitary confinement is cruel. Abraham Maslow said it was the third rung on the ladder to self-actualization, necessary after achieving physical needs like food and shelter.
Here are 4 ways sports talk helps guys fill their need for social connection.
Shared Experience: By getting together to watch a game, guys have a reason to spend time together. American culture teaches men that their time should be spent purposefully and that “hanging out” is not something grown men do, so spending time with another guy has to have some kind of activity. For many guys, watching sports is a legit option in a way that sharing a meal or “seeing if Jim’s really ok” aren’t. Guys know they’ll get to talk about other stuff while watching the game.
Checking In: We all know that the polite answer to “how are you doing?” is “fine.” Dudes are especially likely to give this answer because we’re taught to be independent by solving our own problems and not burdening others. But asking how his team is doing allows him to express happiness, joy, excitement, sadness, and concern in ways he might not be comfortable doing for other parts of his life.
Being Known: Asking a guy who his teams are is a way to ask “who are your people?” Asking how the season is going is like asking “how are they doing?” Remembering who his teams are is one way to tell him you know who he is and what he’s about.
Being Empathic: Guys share each other’s reactions to the game, sharing in their friends’ happiness over victories and “feeling your pain” over a loss. In other words, they connect on an emotional level. A friend not only knows who your people is, your friend has checked the scores and standings and knows how they’re doing.
In many ways, sports talk serves the same function as “small talk.” That’s also about checking in on someone’s people by getting updates on the kind of day-to-day happenings that may not be important in and of themselves, but do contribute to the larger picture of that person’s life. And, by extension, towards your friend’s emotional life. The conversation might not be deep, but who can do deep in every conversation?
Before you roll your eyes and tell the guys to shut up, remember that sports and sports talk gives guys a masculinity-approved way to connect.
If sports and sports talk aren’t your thing, that’s fine, it’s not for everyone. Then again, neither are conversations about celebrities’ social lives, the TV show you’ve been binge watching, or the newest restaurant in town. So before you roll your eyes and tell the guys to shut up, remember that sports and sports talk gives guys a masculinity-approved way to connect.