Editor's Letter: A Sports Confession

By June Carolyn Erlick

I hate sports. As a little girl, I was always stuck on the softball outfield—the practical way of including a chubby, clumsy kid in the mandatory physical education class. I’d rather have been inside reading my favorite poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

I didn’t watch sports because I didn’t understand them and I didn’t understand them because I didn’t watch them. Still don’t.

I found some recent comfort that I was not alone. My friend James N. Green from Brown University had his own confession, telling me in an e-mail, “I am still traumatized for having been chosen eighth or ninth when we made up baseball teams in elementary school and I always prayed that the ball did not come my way.” Even so, Green, a Brazil expert, made half a dozen suggestions, some of which have found their way into this issue.

And so it went. I’d mention a ReVista on sports and a torrent of suggestions would follow. Have you thought about rugby, polo, tejo, skiing, American football, lucha libre, cycling, volleyball, zumba, basketball, jujitsu, capoeira, Xavante wrestling, Jamaican bobsledding, they would ask.

Then there were those who got excited about sports and race, sports and gender, sports diplomacy, not to mention sports as violence prevention, as a way of resolving conflicts, as a way of understanding history. It seemed to be the only conversation that managed to integrate friends, acquaintances and colleagues who were sociologists, historians, political scientists, journalists, anthropologists and even a computer geek or two.

I suddenly realized that for the first time in my life I was talking sports.

And the stories began to flow. Not the stories I had imagined about who had beat out whom in what game, but intimate stories of sports and life. Many of those tales are in these pages. Journalist Stephen Kinzer recounts his first trip to Cuba carrying a suitcase to the family of Red Sox player Luis Tiant. Mariano Siskind from Harvard’s Romance Languages and Literatures Department explains in an intimate fashion how soccer loyalty is formed early and passed on through the generations. Harvard anthropologist Davíd Carrasco, who holds a joint appointment with the Divinity School, recounts the powerful saga of his father, a man from the borderlands, who became a sports diplomat during the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

Historian Peter Winn from Tufts University told me that, on a recent trip to Hawaii, he approached a crowd on the edge of Waikiki Beach surrounding an informal show. The performance turned out not to be Polynesian ritual, as he had been expecting, but Brazilian capoeira.

Suddenly Latin American and Latino sports seemed to be everywhere.

This January, on my first trip to the Middle East, I was sitting with some Colombian friends in an open-air park in Abu Dhabi. It was a balmy evening. Families, including veiled women and hordes of children, sat eating appetizers of Middle Eastern mezzes and enjoying water pipes known as shisha. A large screen displayed an ongoing soccer game. I don’t speak Arabic, but listened to the murmuring sounds as I conversed with my friends. All of a sudden I heard a word I thought I recognized: Maradona. I looked quizzically at my friend Federico, who teaches at Zayed University. Yes, he said, reading my look, Maradona is training in Dubai. So there we had it. Sports and globalization.

I (may) still hate sports. I sure love the idea of them.