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On Sports and Sportsmanship

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Q: I’ve had a tailgate party in the same spot for just about every Aggie home game since R. C. Slocum’s last season, in 2002. This year I’d like to make the move to a different spot, on the other side of the stadium, but it’s between two established tailgates, and I don’t know the folks who host them. Are there any guidelines for busting in and setting up a new tailgate?    
Howard Marples 
Houston
October 2012

A: That all depends on what sort of tailgate you are planning to bust in and set up. Is it one of those gigantic, bottomless-keg bashes that boast a mouthwatering spread of professionally catered grub, multiple sixty-inch plasma televisions, and a prescheduled appearance by your alma mater’s marching band’s percussion section? As anyone who has ever attended a football game—be it professional, collegiate, powder-puff, or peewee—in the great state of Texas well knows, there is a spectrum of tailgate ostentation along which these festive pregame shindigs may be plotted. At one end is the aforementioned five-star jamboree, complete with its own power grid and kitchen staff; at the other, it’s just two guys sharing pigskin pleasantries and a flask of contraband bourbon while enjoying a bag of cold McNuggets. Though the bigger parties tend to provide the neighbors with more perks (“Hey, y’all, this commercial-sized chafing dish full of pork tamales ain’t gonna eat itself!”), their size and spectacle can be intrusive. There is a common bond that binds any home game’s tailgaters, but that bond can be strained by the roar of a dozen generators kicking on at once. Nonetheless, even a comically ginormous party can be wedged in if the approach is tactful. Which is to say, keep those tamales coming, and be sure to give your neighbors ample warning before the bass drums arrive. Also keep in mind that tailgate real estate is often held in perpetuity by way of the honor system, so make sure you’re not violating the sacrosanctity of that code. And you should further verify that the spot is in an open-access site and there are no official hoops (fees, permits, etc.) to jump through. If the answers to those questions are “I’m not” and “There ain’t,” then the Texanist wouldn’t hesitate, not for one tick of the clock, to pull up stakes and put them down anew on the other side of Kyle Field. Just let a thumbs-up and a hearty “Gig ’em!” be your introduction.

Q: A very long time ago I was involved in a friendly game of washers in what turned out to be some not-so-friendly weather. I was behind in points when I called the game due to inclement conditions. Since that time, my opponent claims, on every occasion that presents itself, that he whupped me in washers that day. How long do I have to take this?
Pete
Via e-mail
January 2008

A: The Texanist’s familiarity with horseshoe and washer pits is extensive. And to be sure, throughout this decades-spanning experience, he has been and is currently involved in several intractable grudge matches. These contests are generally as convivial as the friendships that revolve around them, yet they are contests nonetheless, and the Texanist is most concerned by your untimely “calling” of a game on grounds of weather. A faint heart and a dearth of intestinal fortitude have no place in washer tossing or related diversions. The Texanist was once able to take down a few skins in a Las Vegas windstorm that gusted upward of 50 miles per hour. You are advised to challenge your friend to a rematch and earn his trap shut.

Q: Our six-year-old daughter has just finished her first season of soccer and is going to play again this summer. With regard to cheering, is it out of line to root for a win in her “no-score” league? Where exactly does the line between parental supportiveness and overenthusiastic sideline parent from hell lie?
Name Withheld
July 2011

A: Amongst all of life’s curricula, there are few lessons more important than those imparted via peewee sports. It’s on these shortened fields where children first learn how to handle with dignity and poise both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. And it’s on the sidelines of these fields where parents get a refresher course in the same. Here’s the Cliffs­Notes version: Supporting your own child with moderately enthusiastic encouragement is good; razzing, heckling, or in any way attempting to “get inside the head of” another child is bad. Punitive behavior (e.g., withholding orange slices, et cetera) toward the less athletic children on your own child’s team is also unacceptable, however tempting it may be. Even the coach is never to be verbally or otherwise abused, no matter how idiotic it was for him to put that nearsighted Stevens girl in at goalie with ten minutes left in the game. And as for these so-called no-score leagues, it is the Texanist’s experience that if the peewees are old enough to count, then the peewees keep score. Everyone may get a trophy in the end, but the peewees know, as sure as there will be juice boxes, in which team’s column to place the W and the L.

Q: My wife has just informed me that we 
will be attending her college roommate’s wedding, which is to be held in Phoenix on the first Sunday in February. The problem, as you are likely aware, is that this is Super Bowl Sunday. Who plans a wedding on Super Bowl Sunday? Secondly, how do 
I get out of going?
Name Withheld

Dallas
January 2012

A: The Texanist dimly recalls having once been involved in a covert operation at the postnuptial festivities of a forgotten (to him, at least) friend of his missus, during which he and a dozen or so other spouses, fiancés, boyfriends, uncles, nephews, cousins, a waiter, a cellist, and a ring bearer skipped the dancing, toasts, and cake and piled into the back of the idling wedding limo to watch the final innings of game six of the 1993 World Series on the twelve-inch TV. Despite the threat of discovery and public scorn, this particular mission had a successful outcome (especially for the cellist, a Blue Jays fan). But in truth, it is never much fun to watch a game while constantly looking over your shoulder for the hand that will grab your ear and drag you, feebly protesting, back to the buffet. The Texanist should know. In search of (the) game, he has also slipped away from—and been firmly returned to—funerals, baptisms, one bris, a couple of quinceañeras, and children’s birthday parties too numerous and cake-smeared to recall. But that was all before the invention of a small, miraculous device known as the smartphone. As you and the Texanist both know, without first getting out of your own marriage, there is no way you are getting out of going to Phoenix for the most ill-timed wedding since the Von Whosits tied the knot on the upper deck of the Hindenburg. But unlike the Texanist back in 1993, you have options. Instead of stealing away to the dressing room, lobby bar, upstairs bedroom, or hotel kitchen, nowadays any interested party can simply sneak a peek at his phone. Just make sure the shindig is not in some remote Sonoran Desert locale unlikely to have reception or Wi-Fi. In that case, the Texanist recommends trying the limo.

Q: I was fishing on Toledo Bend Reservoir with some friends recently and kind of inadvertently broke the law. I realized the night before our sunrise outing that my fishing license had expired, but I went out anyway. And the next morning too. I came up totally empty, but this has made me wonder, Do you need a license to fish or just to catch fish?  
Name Withheld
May 2011

A: The law on this is clear: Fishing state waters, like Toledo Bend Reservoir, requires a fishing license. Period. Unless it happens to be the first Saturday in June, in which case it’s Free Fishing Day. Period. Or unless you happen to be fishing from the bank of a state park or on waters completely enclosed by a state park. Period. Or unless you were born before September 1, 1930, or are under seventeen years of age. Comma. Or unless you qualify for a handful of other exemptions. Period. Assuming that none of these apply, you were breaking the law. Exclamation point. Well, that’s the letter of the law, at least, but in regard to your question, the Texanist has often wondered if the many exceptions listed above should not also include an immunity for the chronically unlucky. The Texanist is thinking of this friend of his who was born under a bad sign. Unluckiest fellow you’ve ever seen. You could sit him on the bank of the sweetest honey hole in Texas with a tackle box full of high-end jigging spoons and this dude would get nary a nibble. Can’t catch a cold. Once, he tried to return a carton of night crawlers, claiming they were defective (no luck there either). The Texanist shudders to think how much money this poor devil has laid out over the years on gear, bait, instructional videos, et cetera. None of it has helped. So here we have a man who is guaranteed to never catch a damn thing. Should his futile piscations, which do nothing to disturb the aquatic life of our rivers, lakes, and seashores, require a license? Well, yes, actually. It’s called fishing, not catching. And it requires a permit.

Q: My husband and I have season tickets to our alma mater’s football games (I don’t want to say which school), but he insists on getting a jump on the crowd by leaving the stadium before the games are even over. He does this every time, whether we are winning or losing, and it drives me crazy. Can we call ourselves real fans if we don’t stay and cheer for the whole game?
Name Withheld
October 2009

A: Of the Texanist’s many favorable attributes, his all-weatherness is near the top (just behind his good-naturedness and his levelheadedness), especially when it comes to rooting for a team of college gridders (for evidence of this, see his list of the greatest college football plays ever). It sounds as if your husband needs to take a good, long look in the mirror and ask the guy staring back, the one with the rainbow-colored wig, the painted face and torso, and the cardboard-cutout white picket fence (“D-Fence! D-Fence! D-Fence!”), why, exactly, it is that seventeen years after graduation he finds himself feeling empty. Sure, his enthusiasm appears intact on the outside, but the Texanist is fearful that on the inside it has subsided to an alarmingly low level. For the sake of the boys on the field, interrupt his moment of reflection with a smack across his greasepainted jowl and remind him that there is no I in team and that in fair weather and foul his team needs him as he once needed them.

Q. Is it wrong to wear your football team’s jersey to church? 
Bill Bledsoe
Dallas
December 2009

A: The Texanist will endeavor to put the answer to this question in terms that you will understand. As a devoted football fan, you are undoubtedly aware of the phrase “not in my house,” a defiant cri de coeur that is generally shouted by a swaggering defensive end who’s just sunk a running back for a loss on third-and-short. Well, imagine for a moment that the Almighty is a 265-pound linebacker with meaty arms, a penchant for smashmouthiness, and one of those scary dark visors on His helmet. He who would attend a gathering held in this gentleman’s house would do well to observe the accepted dress code or risk the loudest “not in my house” you have ever heard. The proper duds are known as Sunday-go-to-meetings or sometimes even church clothes; an untucked, knee-length football jersey may be considered acceptable and even quite sporty in certain arenas, but not in God’s house. The Texanist is sincerely shocked by how suddenly the sartorial sands seem to have shifted. It wasn’t all that long ago that Tom Landry could be found patrolling the sidelines in jacket, tie, and trademark fedora. And this was after church. Nowadays jackets, ties, fedoras, and all garments not league sanctioned are forbidden on the sidelines. Forbidden. Although the Texanist, who is himself a high-spirited soul, applauds the gusto with which you aim to express your boosterism, he would have you suit up for church and save the jersey for the postworship Barcalounger.

Q: I wear the colors and symbols of a university I never attended because I admire its history and traditions. Does this make me as stupid as the people who wear burnt orange simply because UT has a big marketing program? 
John Dull
Pasadena
January 2011

A: Clothes make the man, whether you choose to cover your naked body with jeans and a plain white T-shirt or the pin-striped suit of a big-city banker. (A corollary: In the Texanist’s experience, there are certain situations where alack of clothes can also make the man, but it is absolutely critical to properly judge when you are in these situations and not in another type of situation where a lack of clothes only makes the man have to write letters of apology to all the people in his wife’s extended family.) Along the spectrum of sartorial significance (at one end lie the myriad uniforms of our military; at the other, a pair of plain blue swimming trunks), a piece of clothing adorned with school colors and symbols falls somewhere between the jersey of a professional sports team and the tank top of a bygone political campaign. Be the wearer a card-carrying ex—student association member or a non-attending booster such as yourself, he is required to sport that garment with purpose. Donning a school’s colors (or a “Save the Whales” T-shirt) effectively deputizes you as an emissary of that institution (or cause) and means that you must possess reverence for—or at least some vague awareness of—its storied traditions, current win-loss record, and ranking in the coaches poll. Nothing is more depressing than striking up a urinal conversation with a man wearing the ball cap of your alma mater only to discover, after an unhinged ten-minute rant about the special-teams coach, that this man did not attend your school, is wearing the hat only because his wife’s brother left it in his car, and couldn’t care less. As long as you are mindful not to become this man, Mr. Dull, it is fine to wear whatever you like.

Q: I was recently invited to attend a college football game with a friend who has two season tickets. I accepted the invitation and went to the game. We lost pretty bad. After the game my friend insinuated that I owed him cash for the full face value of the ticket. We had no pre-arrangements, and I had just assumed that I was his guest. Do I really owe him anything?
Name Withheld
January 2011

A: Your so-called friend is either completely clueless as to spare-sporting-event-ticket etiquette or a low-down bamboozler with whom you should not keep company. Full value in cash money? The Texanist thinks not. The ticket was long since bought and paid for, and had you not accepted the invitation it would have likely gone unused and thus wasted. So who did the real solid for the other here, anyway? The answer is both of you. By accepting the invitation, you saved him the shame of having to attend the game solo like some kind of friendless loser, and, thanks to him, you got to see the game. We have a draw. No money should change hands. But as everyone knows, there are three acceptable forms of currency that can, and should, be used to repay the debt of a free ticket: use of your pickup truck, beer, or a shoulder to cry on after the team loses its next three straight.

Q: I’m a fifth-grade teacher in Houston and recently failed in an attempt to plan a field trip to this year’s Houston rodeo. Two of my colleagues refused to sign off on the plan because they view the rodeo as being cruel to the animals. I disagree but apparently lost the argument, as there will be no trip to the rodeo. Am I wrong? Is the rodeo really cruel? 
Name Withheld 
Houston
March 2011

A: As an elementary school teacher, you are probably familiar with pop quizzes. The Texanist has one for you. The official state sport of Texas is what? (A) Animal cruelty or (B) rodeo. The answer is (B) rodeo. Now for the essay portion: A truer example of animal cruelty would be the work of your colleagues themselves, who have exhibited great callousness in their treatment of the small humans in their care. Children are animals too, and when born and raised in Texas (and/or Wyoming), they ought to have the right to experience firsthand the joy and excitement of the rodeo: barrel racing, calf roping, bronco riding, and bulldogging, one of the Texanist’s favorites, a thrilling event in which a cowboy hurls himself from a galloping horse atop the horns of a fleeing steer and wrestles him, kicking and snorting, to the ground. Sure, everyone gets a few cuts and bruises, including the cowboy, but this can hardly be called cruelty. It’s more like interspecies roughhousing. And what about bull riding, the marquee event of the rodeo? Who’s getting the abuse there? (Just ask Tuff Hedeman—or Bodacious.) The Texanist is not unaware that the rodeo has its detractors, but for those people, there is a midway full of rides, games of chance, and funnel cake to keep them occupied. The Texanist has not yet met the person who is opposed to funnel cake. The rodeo is our state sport. Make it happen next year. The youngsters will thank you.

 

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