The term "sports" conjures
up certain images, and generally speaking these images
will be of men or women engaged in some kind of competitive
athletic play. There is probably specialized equipment
at the ready and almost always a uniform. It is organized
and observed. As a functional matter these are the proper
imageswhen one uses the term this is most often
what is meant. But part of what makes sports (and the
sports world) interesting is the fact that in sports one
finds abundant metaphors for the culture and the life.
Whats even more interesting is to turn that concept
around: to see the sport in the life.
The Monday Morning Quarterback,
the Weekend Warrior. The kids who soup up their late-model
Mustangs and peel out in the empty corners of suburban
parking lots. The old buddies who get together every other
Thursday for poker. All of these people are engaged in
sport, and all are better for it. The acquisition of skill
and the deployment of same in competition, however informal,
is a necessary element of the human experience. And nowhere
is this notion more pure, or more clear, than in the game
The act of shooting pool
is one of the last unadulterated pleasures. When it is
done properly. Pool is like any other sport in that it
is governed by a set of precise and intricate rules that
anticipate and solve any problem that might arise. In
order to play pool the proper way one must be aware of
and well versed in these rules. To lack such knowledge
can subject one to ostracism at least, and violence at
worst. It all depends, of course, on where you are playing.
Pool is a game of presumed
respect. Your opponent is cool until he does something
to indicate that he isnt. And if he appears to be
doing something that doesnt jive with the rules
the proper response is to ask him about it and find some
kind of mutually agreeable solution. This is where house
rules come in. Since there are so many different variations
of the game many places have their own particular codes
to decide things like where to place the ball on a scratch,
how to follow up the break, etc. The new player is expected
to learn and play by these codes in addition to the universal
rules of the game.
Its a world in which
a lot of folks wouldnt feel welcome, to be sure.
But thats not because they dont belong. Its
because they dont want to belong. Weve
all had the experience of walking into an unfamiliar place
and feeling the burn of all eyes upon us. In most cases
its easy to overcome by simply taking stock of your
surroundings, asking appropriate questions, and acting
according to the accepted behaviors.
The sports the common man
enjoys have no referees. Its up to the participants
to understand the order and govern their actions accordingly.
In many ways its an ideal situationpeace without
the necessity of enforcement. People inclined to enjoy
this particular brand of freedom seek it out in dive bars
and pool halls. They understand that these are the only
places where the Law wont be waiting to find you
guilty of a crime you didnt commit. But some people
cant live that way.
For one reason or another
the current cultural climate is one where people feel
it is their right to act as they please until and unless
a duly appointed agent of the government declares their
actions wrong. Regard and respect for their fellow man
does not enter into the equation. These are the people
who will talk on their cell phones in a restaurant or
a theater, who will cut you off in traffic, who will demand
a refund on an item marked final sale. They are allowed
to do these things because it is inconvenient to tell
them to stop.
Sports teaches its participants
about the virtues of winning and losing, the proper way
to do it, and the repercussions of doing it improperly.
The man who declares his loss in a pool game a matter
of his opponents luck is as unwelcome as the man
who shoots out of turn, and this is how it should be.
What is necessary is a calculated and firm enforcement
of these basic codes of respect in the rest of the world.
Too many people are dealing from the bottom of the deck
simply because they can.
Is all of this a bit overstated?
No. It is unrealistic to expect that every person around
you will show you the respect you deserve, which is to
say the respect that you have not shown you do not deserve.
In the pool halls and card rooms of the world you either
live this way or risk the consequences. Why things are
not this way everywhere, everyday, is a mystery desperately
in need of correction.