Last July I was on the island of Procida, 40 minutes by ferry from Naples. It is a beautiful little island that my 15 year old daughter was excited to visit. While there she chided me for being so nonchalant about our experience. For most of my adult life I have been a passionate traveler. I have been to 46 states (the exceptions are Alaska, Maine, Idaho, and Montana) and to 29 countries outside of the US. I lived for almost 6 months in Brussels and for almost 18 years and counting in France. Yet, she was right, I was nonchalant.
This is the village where we ate lunch on Procida. That is Mt. Vesuvius in the background.
Another passion in my life, starting as a young child, was sports, both as a participant and a spectator. In terms of travel I am a relative neophyte compared to many, including my wife (perhaps double my number of countries). Being French and a journalist she has traveled not only over much of Europe, but also to all the continents (except Antarctica) for work or pleasure. But in sports I think my experiences, at least in terms of breadth, are extensive. Often these two passions intertwined. Much of my travel around the US was specifically to attend sporting events. And while traveling both in the US and abroad I often took the opportunity to attend events.
Below the article are my recollections of sports and travel through the lens of my faulty memory. Subjects (click on the links) are baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, soccer, tennis, horse racing (including rodeo), athletics, Florida water sports (surfing, fishing, water skiing, scuba diving), volleyball, bowling, cycling, snow skiing, cricket, games (and rugby), stadiums, women’s sports, and travel. The goal is to give the reader a sense of the extent of my passions in context to certain conclusions about life and the world as it exists today. If you are too young in age and/or spirit to read through the disordered stream-of-consciousness-like reminiscences of an old man, like the poor duffer listening to the Oldest Member in a P. G. Wodehouse golf story, simply ignore the more than ten thousand words below the article.
Whether or not you have read some of my descriptions below, suffice it to say that my life has changed substantially. Regarding sports, as a spectator following sports in France was relatively difficult years ago. Now, the online coverage is very good but I have not watched a baseball, football, or basketball game in years. However, I did watch France in the football (soccer) World Cup finals. What has changed? Sports, like everything else, has become political and very woke. The hyping of women’s sports (actually I really enjoy women’s sports, see below) and now the transgender debasement of the very same women’s sports. What I see as worst is the woke coverage of sports as exemplified by ESPN. On the professional level the staggering amounts of money involved with the easy movement of players makes the sense of following a team much less human than in the past. For example, in Naples, despite many churches, there were many more images of Maradona (the Argentine soccer star who played for Naples decades ago) than the Madonna. Now each year is a potentially new team. In college sports there is a similar corruption of player movement. But the fundamental corruption is that the players are not students at all. One of my favorite coaches in any sport was Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. He was successful and did everything in the right way. Now he is the biggest disappointment (before he retired). If any college coach could have held the line on recruiting the best players who were also the best students it would have been Coach K. The fact that his teams full of NBA top picks, who were in school for just a cup of coffee before the draft, always underachieved made this practice even more galling. Everywhere, the lack of class and decorum, being a good winner and a good loser, in a word sportsmanship; no longer applies to sports. In my mind this downward trend started with Muhamed Ali. The last sporting event I attended (besides walking down the street with visiting friends to watch the Tour de France pass by in 2022) was for team handball in Veszprem, Hungary in 2020 where I was on a work related project for several days. This negativity toward sports is also accompanied by an apathy bred by success. I developed a kind of stoicism through the failure of my teams through the 60’s, 70’s, and into the 80’s. The Florida Gator football and basketball programs were both terrible my last year there (1979-80). The Gators won both basketball and football national championships in the same year. Even the Chicago Cubs, my boyhood team, have won the World Series. Duke has won several national championships in basketball. So there is less to root for and I can thank God everyday for all of the blessings of abundance through the many championships.
Painting in the Airbnb we stayed at in Naples: A montage of Che and Maradona.
My options for participating in sports are limited with my age and location. Living in France, golf is not convenient, and even more relevant, I don’t have friends here who play. Anything more athletic than walking results in muscle pulls. But I do walk, often 5 miles a day. Around my town of Meudon there are many wonderful walks. In Burgundy our house is on a hill. Following a steep descent there is a long ascent of about a mile walking around the hill, coming back down to the house. I call it the magic Escher walk because it is always downhill. (The reference to Escher is the Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher.)
As for travel, I still travel but not much on my own volition. What has changed? The pleasure and elegance of flying has turned into degradation that is a test of endurance to maintain equanimity and self respect. I primarily still travel during school vacations when wherever we go it is crowded. There are the needs of an older gentleman, i.e., my need to go to the toilet more often and at inconvenient moments. I also travel with a sometimes grumpy 15 year old and her anxious mother.
Maybe all this is simply the ranting of an old man. In fact, it can be argued that our times are no different than before in that the old are always complaining about the new. Certainly, it is my character to be nostalgic and to complain about how much of life, our civilization, has gone bad. But I think even if the world were better than ever my perspective would have changed. It is not because of all those things I have complained about that my passions have cooled.
So what are the real reasons for my change in outlook? Perhaps it is simply the law of diminishing returns. I have already lived a full life. My bucket list only consists of seeing the milestone’s of my daughter’s life: graduation from college, marriage, and children. It is like wanting to know the end of a novel or movie. I hope she will have many children but no tattoos. My pastimes are simply walking, watching podcasts, reading, writing and cooking. My main pleasures are hosting my family and friends or going to visit them.
I still follow sports and travel but the passion is gone. The Olympics will be in Paris in 2024. Some events are only minutes from our apartment just outside the city. Maybe I will attend an event. More likely I will leave town to avoid the crowds. As for travel, we are going to Japan in a matter of days. It is my daughter’s dream, she has planned everything. I have paid for the tickets, I will carry the baggage, and I will enjoy seeing her awe and wonder seeing the sites. But I will be nonchalant and there is little chance of attending a sumo wrestling match.
For the complete article including the long addendum see: https://irakatz.substack.com/p/a-life-of-sports-and-travel”.