As 2017 comes to a close it’s safe to say that, objectively, it was a very bad year. I’ve taken to calling it “the longest year on record” because it has stretched on and on and seemingly warped time as it went. Some moments that, at least according to conventional numbers, happened in 2017 seem like they occurred years ago.
But reviewing a year or any period of time is entirely arbitrary. Move the goal posts a bit and your conclusion could be completely different. Was it a good month? Bad fortnight? Maybe you had a good corporate quarter or can reassure yourself that things will get right by Chinese New Year. It’s all relative.
Regardless of the measuring stick, 2017 will likely go down as a year of massive change, the 365 days that took 2016’s conclusions and violently put them into effect. Each day it felt like the landscape was shifting, sometimes slowly but always gradually changing. The national conversation oscillated wildly. We became embroiled in scandals. Consumed by crisis. Obsessed with the outrage many feel necessary to operate in the modern world. There is hope in these crisis, but it can all be so overwhelming.
And when the things we find refuge in — sports and music and movies — are invaded by the realities of the real world it can be difficult to handle. I came back to writing about sports full time in 2017, the gravitational pull of moonlighting as a blogger and reporter simply too much to resist. I’ve never written more words in my life, and I’ve never spent more time online.
Tasked to find something positive in the world of sports to look back on, however, I found myself only seeing how all the bad of 2017 got in the way. So much of what I’ve written about here has fixated on political attacks on athletes of color and the way politics impact sports. There is no such thing as sticking to sports. The culture and the world around the playing surface impacts everything that happens on it, and it’s downright negligent to ignore or dismiss it. But when it comes down to the reasons we value sports in the first place, none of the Big Picture Issues ever come up.
In trying to find my favorite moments in sports I’ve often been left wanting. Most of the results were expected, and the things I personally hoped for were only met with failure. The Patriots won the Super Bowl with a frantic comeback Donald Trump never saw. The Pittsburgh Penguins repeated as Stanley Cup Champions. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers faced off in an NBA Finals most knew the outcome of before it began. Somehow all the main stories of 2017 felt predictable in hindsight. Even LaVar Ball seemed to be working off a script.
If I have to narrow down one good day in 2017, it would be September 1. One of the difficulties of writing about joy in sports is that it’s oddly personal, and unless you find common joy with others it can be ultimately meaningless. That Friday in early September, for example, was the day a long interview I did with LaVar Ball was published, I also took a flight from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to New York City while writing an outline for a book about Russell Westbrook. On the way from the airport, I interviewed Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, mostly about chicken wings. Later, I went to the US Men’s National Team’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica.
There’s only one person on the planet that had that September 1, 2017, an he’s the author of this blog post. But in that experience were some shared memories. I met up with a large group of friends, who threw a great tailgate before and after the match. I sampled cured meats from friendly Costa Rican supporters. I met and bonded with friends I only knew virtually, sang and chanted with friends and got to experience international soccer for the first time.
It was the end of a tremendous trip that only happened because of a bad soccer match, the result of which I’ll never forget but never truly focus on. All the stuff surrounding that game, which ultimately led to the US missing the World Cup, was some of the most joy I’ve had all 2017. And it still means something even if the end result was bad. The group of people I went to Harrison with have become better, in part because of those shared moments but also because of the harsh realities of the year that was. We’ve huddled close and survived all the bad together.
The US missing the World Cup is both a personal and professional loss that will only become more meaningful next year, when the team doesn’t go to Russia and American soccer fans watch the World Cup as bystanders. But in looking back I’ve found it’s become key to understanding why 2017 wasn’t all bad when it comes to sports.
The moments I’ve enjoyed the most are not the stuff of 500 word columns or awards. They’re goofy things hidden in blog posts and podcast episodes and, most importantly, that have been shared with the people I care about most. The people willing to let you sleep on a couch so you can see Saquon Barkley, the best running back in America, demolish Nebraska on a miserable afternoon in Happy Valley. Those willing to yell “BE AN ATHLETE” at a television and sweating halftime unders on Saturday afternoons. The people who support who you are and what you love not because they feel obligated to, but because they feel the same way you do.
It’s been writing about The Price Is Right, then laughing with others about the crazy thing that happened on The Price Is Right with friends later that night. Getting hopelessly interested in darts and NBA Twitter beefs in July. And in a year where my own rooting interests were nowhere near satisfied, it was often in feeling joy by proxy for those that saw their own teams succeed.
If you’re reading this, you survived 2017. Congratulations. We did it. And now we keep going, knowing the lessons that period of time taught us. In 2018, I will continue to outlive the Buffalo Bills. I will watch more sporting events with friends and make more special moments regardless of the game’s outcome. I will take my father to the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway. I will see the impossibly green grass at Fenway Park for myself once more. Maybe I’ll finally get to Wrigley Field.
And maybe one of those moments will be the best thing I see all year. Probably not. But those things and people will be the reasons I survive the next 365 days or whatever length of time you prefer to measure. After all, it’s up to you to keep score on these kind of things.