Do Endurance Athletes Care about the Super Bowl?

By Pete Williams

Do endurance and spectator sports mix?

Since taking up triathlon nearly four years ago, I’ve followed pro sports less and less.

It’s only natural to some degree. If you’re spending more time training, it figures something has to give and following professional sports is one of the first casualties. Plus, an increasing number of sports events start late at night, which is poor timing for endurance athletes, who typically tend to be early risers. Most endurance athletes do their longer workouts on weekends, a time when avid sports fans stay glued to the TV, especially during college/pro football season.

But it goes deeper than that. Triathletes, along with avid runners, cyclists, swimmers, stand-up paddlers, etc., tend to be seize-the-day, get-out-and-go types. The idea of being spectators in the game of life isn’t that appealing. Sure, they might follow sports casually – and watch the Super Bowl, perhaps – but the idea of paying much attention, let alone devoting significant time to watching others perform is contradictory.

I’ve been stunned at this shift in my life. I grew up a huge sports fan, learning to read with baseball cards. My first memories of watching television are of O.J. Simpson during his magical 1973 season in which he rushed for 2,003 yards. (I was barely four at the time). I went to my first World Series at 10, organized my first fantasy baseball league at 15, wrote hundreds of sports articles for my college student newspaper, spent my twenties covering Major League Baseball for USA Today, and am the author of a number of sports-related books. Heck, I’ve never really covered the NBA but for four years in my twenties I spent a good chunk of my spare time as a season ticket holder for the hapless Washington Bullets. As recently as 2006, I bought a friend’s season tickets to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That year, I published a book based on spending a year covering the NFL Draft process. Even now, at 41, a significant chunk of my work comes from covering pro sports.

But I find myself increasingly disinterested in sports and while it might have something to do with fatigue from covering athletes, agents, owners, and sports executives, it probably has more to do with being an endurance athlete.

I still enjoy the professional challenge of working on a sports-related story. If that involves heading out to the ballpark or stadium, terrific. But I’d much rather spend my spare time swimming, biking, running, paddle boarding – all of which usually involve visiting new places, spending time outdoors, and exploring nature. I’ve found that if I don’t have to follow sports, I don’t.

This is probably why most triathletes care little about pro triathletes. We admire their training, think it’s cool that we can enter the same races they do, and occasionally read stories on them, hoping to pick up insight for our own training. But who follows pro triathlon? I bet 95 percent of triathletes couldn’t name the male or female winner of Kona from 2008.

Perhaps some of it comes from hitting 40. Then again, I think you reach a point where you have to ask yourself: Do I really need to be entertained? If so, is this the best use of my time and resources and is this product worthy of that time and money?

In 2008, I went the entire NFL season without watching a minute in person or on television. (I did attend a Super Bowl party.) What I found is that the NFL, unlike other sports, is the easiest to follow without actually watching it. Heck, I know people who have been NFL season ticket holders for years but couldn’t name 10 people on their favorite team since they drink so much at games.

With the NFL, there’s only one game a week and the storylines – i.e. Favre, Vick, Roethlisberger, T.O. – tend to beat you senseless. It’s impossible not to know what’s going on in the NFL.

So why, I figured, devote time and energy to doing so?

Last night was the first time in my life I thought of not watching the Super Bowl. The first Super Bowl I remember watching was Super Bowl XI, when John Madden’s band of Oakland Raiders hooligans beat the Vikings. I was 7, though my dad assures me I watched previous games.

My sons, 8 and 5, had little interest in last night’s game and had to be reminded of what the Super Bowl is. When I was their age, my dad watched a lot of  pro sports. For my kids, pro sports is something Daddy deals with sometimes when he goes to work. In fairness, I’ve taken them to dozens of baseball games. They’re also strong swimmers and the older one is a youth triathlete. (I only learned to swim properly four years ago.) I spend a lot of time at youth swim meets and we run 5K races and kids fun runs together.

I did watch the Super Bowl last night but started nodding off by the third quarter. (Getting through the Super Bowl broadcast is an endurance sport). I hope a labor dispute does not shut the NFL down for a year. I have friends who work for teams, which tend to layoff such underpaid people during work stoppages.

Plus, millions of people love the NFL, though as with baseball (1994), the NBA (1998-99) and the NHL (2004-05), they’ll find other things to do. Some will never come back.

As for me, I doubt I’ll miss it at all.

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