Blackhawks Sportsing the Sports World on Fire, Sports

Winning!

I am an apologetic Blackhawks fan. Apologetic in the sense that, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not comfortable with the team’s co-opting Native American likenesses and other imagery for their own use. And yes, I’m aware the original owner, Frederic McLaughlin, was in the Blackhawk infantry brigade during World War II and that Black Hawk, the historical figure, was a noble Sauk warrior (and resident of Illinois), and therefore naming the team after him is meant to honor his significance in this way, and so on and so forth (nevermind that he was frequently on the side opposing American occupation).

And yet, here I am, unable to keep myself from loving these Hawks. They’re great. The various storylines of the season make it hard not to root for them (if you’re a Chicagoan, at least). The tragic death of Clint Reif last December, Kane overcoming a fractured clavicle (which hurts just to say) to return much earlier than anticipated and play a crucial role in the postseason, the emergence of Teuvo Teravainen, Kimmo Timonen’s last chance at a cup, and the impending offseason salary cap decisions that will (to whatever extent) remake this team.

Part of it is, Chicago needs some sports team to root for and the Hawks are here to fill that role at just the right time (a bit of a trend in Chicago sports history, usually no embarrassment of riches like all of New England has known with a decade or so of championships and success from the Patriots, Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox). But more than anything, for me personally, it’s been the fact that they give me the opportunity to reflect on why I feel the way I do about a team’s success (a team, other than the fact that they represent the geographical area I call my home, I have no specific connection to). The Hawks’ winning or losing can, despite my best efforts, very much enhance or ruin the day after, and I know plenty of people who feel the exact same as I do.

It’s interesting to me, we often diminish the significance of sports in the literary community. Not without reason, mind you. There’s a lot to be said about the deficits of sports, and even more to be said about the ways in which competitive sports in this country are harmful to each and every one of us. But to pretend there’s nothing to them, that they’re a mindless fancy and emotional outlet for a lot of people in this country and little else, is to ignore the considerable ways they affect these people. They are an emotional outlet. The question continues to be why, why do they hold this kind of power? It’s interesting to think about. I have no doubt there are loads and loads of studies and research available on the subject. If anyone knows of some that are particularly good I’d be glad to read them. Cognitive science is great.

We tend to further have a way of diminishing sports because of the ostensible lack of self-awareness our favorite athletes experience when playing the game (and often outside of the game, too, which has led to a crisis of confidence in pro football players especially). On the field, what you see is what you get. The body, in an almost automatic way, performs as it should in these moments of high drama that we as spectators enjoy or not (depending on our fan allegiance).

In his essay “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” David Foster Wallace, an avid tennis fan who excelled at the sport in his youth, disappointedly recalled the lack of introspection in Tracy Austin’s memoir, Beyond Center Court, in which she described her match against Christ Evert during the 1979 US Open final. Austin only related details of the game to the reader that anyone who was watching it would have already known or, at best, could have reasonably suspected (such as this revelation: “I immediately knew what I had done, which was to win the US Open, and I was thrilled”). Wallace’s ultimate point being, great athletes are great precisely because they don’t think in the way most literary types think, with belabored and often obsessive rumination, about what they’re doing. They react. There body simply kinesthetically is, and it’s often a glorious thing to watch (and certainly its own type of intelligence, whether or not it’s valued in the same way).

I can say without a doubt that “thinking too much” was my undoing as a college athlete. I didn’t run to whoever it was I was supposed to block. I thought long and hard about what made the most sense in any given situation, and usually amid my failure to react, the play was blown dead and someone on the defensive side of the ball had reacted and made a play. Watching the videotape in position meetings afterward, I’d be humiliated to see myself stutter stepping back and forth on the field, as though in the throes of some strange and decidedly unattractive manner of dance, and listen to the bewildered comments of my line coach, who wanted to know what the hell I thought I was attempting out there, and I could have gone on and on but elected to shrug sheepishly and keep those thoughts to myself.

The Hawks are a kinesthetic feast for the eyes. Hockey, I think, lends itself to this because it’s not only necessary that you have massive control over all parts of your own body, but you also need to master the frictionless surface on which the game is played, while having total awareness of the players around you who mean you harm. It leads to plays like THIS.

My ultimate point is, regardless of whatever happens on the ice, whatever the players think and feel, whatever the prevailing opinion of sports is in any subculture, and my misgivings about the Blackhawks’ name aside, I thank this team for being so fun to watch and so fun to ruminate over for any reason I choose.

More on the subject of hockey to come, whether the Hawks are 2015 Stanley Cup Champions or, ergh, not.