Sportsballs: The Nerds’ Revenge?

I feel like social media, over the last few years, has brought forth this weird fusion of nerds and non-nerds into the same spaces. The internet used to keep them somewhat separate, which had its benefits. Now, we’re all on Twitter and Facebook together, and we’re starting to interact again.

There are many, though, who fit in both worlds; I’m one such person, and I very much enjoy having all manner of interests easily available to me on my Twitter feed. I can keep up with political issues and talk about Harry Potter and then flip out about whatever ridiculousness my hockey team is up to, all in one place. It’s glorious!

But there’s this one trend I’ve noticed, based around one particular word, and it honestly makes me feel sick to my stomach:


Generally, it’s a word used by non-sports fans to talk in general terms about sports in a way that indicates that they a) don’t know what they’re talking about really, and b) don’t particularly care to. Why not just say “sports”? From my vantage point, “sportsballs” is a term first used by YA author Maureen Johnson, who is extremely popular amongst a certain subset of nerds on Twitter called Nerdfighters (a moniker itself popularized by YouTube stars Hank and John Green, the latter of whom is a YA author himself and very good friends with Johnson). Johnson tends to break out this word whenever she feels like Twitter is talking a lot about sports for whatever reason.

Her use of the word has always suggested a certain attitude to me: I’m too good for sports, and so I shall talk of them dismissively. Like when she was a kid, the jocks teased or bullied her, and this is her way of getting revenge in her successful adulthood. And I know I’m not the only one who hears that word that way, because I see her fans use it in the exact same way. Some of those fans are my friends, and they know that I love my sports, but I don’t know if they realize how it’s a hurtful word to me.

I have always had a hard time feeling like I fit in anywhere. In high school I was friendly with the nerds, with the honors kids, with the music kids, with the sports kids. I floated between all those groups, but I never really fit in with any of them. I’ve always felt like Clark Kent, trying to be like one of the humans he adores—except I never get to rip off my shirt and save the world and have people adore me back. (Hi, my feelings on Superman. You weren’t meant to be here.) The internet helps me fit in better, lets me be more of my Super-self, but then people in one group that I should fit in with talk condescendingly about the other group I should fit in with, and…and suddenly I’m an outsider again. Once more, I don’t fit.

Jocks and sports fans need to realize that they are basically just as nerdy about sports as the nerds are about Harry Potter and Star Wars and whatever else the stereotype lists. And nerds need to realize that the sports fans are, really, the same as they are. I mean, honestly, fantasy sports leagues? How much nerdier can you get?! And I mean that in a great way, even though I do not have the interest or time to participate in a fantasy hockey league or whatever. But I love that other people do. I understand feeling that joy. Going to a Rangers or Yankees game is every bit as affirming to me as going to a Harry Potter convention. I am with My People, and we all understand each other.

So, ye nerds, if you wouldn’t talk down about someone who likes Lord of the Rings when you like Star Wars, then don’t talk down about someone who likes football just because you don’t. They’re the same as you, and you hated it when the football players in high school laughed at you for wearing your Ravenclaw scarf all winter. No one’s saying you have to like or understand sports, but don’t put down your fellow nerds who happen to be part of a sports fandom.

(Side note: Yes, my sports tag here is “Puckballs”. This is based on a term one of my friends use not to disparage the sport of hockey, but to try and connect with her two friends who are really into hockey while she isn’t, but she wants to support them. It was her use of the “sportsballs” term in the more negative sense I’ve described here that spurred on this post, but “puckballs” always feels far kinder to me from her. Just to clarify.)

6 Comments on “Sportsballs: The Nerds’ Revenge?

  1. I find it really awkward when socially prevalent beacons of nerd culture use this term, mostly because yeah, it sounds condescending. Friends, I forgive, because these other people make it a bit more acceptable, so, I’m less inclined to be agitated when they do it (or think they’re trying to be a dick to me or something).

    I feel a lot of people just think it is a cutsey, “no idea what i am talking about!” term.

    Nerd/Geek culture has this huge problem with condescending attitudes, even amongst one another. Not saying it is forgivable, but, I think something like this is just part of a bigger issue.

    I hung out with the dirty punks and drop outs in high school, we weren’t all that geeky and even I shake my head when I see something like that being said. At the very least by people who have some sort of power to maybe make a positive one and instead take the lazy route.

    Yeah, it just seems lazy to me.

    • There’s also this strange sense of…. I guess pride? Like you said, it’s meant to convey that they don’t know what they’re talking about, but even more than that, they’re proud that they’re clueless.

      It reminds me of some old LOST wank I was re-reading the other day, about the finale, and so many people were proudly talking about how little they watched, how soon they gave up, or (for those truly blessed among them) who never even watched a single minute of it. They were so smug and proud!

      That’s how I feel about people who talk about “sportsballs”; they truly seem to think they are better people for not knowing anything about sports.

  2. I apologize for annoying you. I wasn’t using the term sportsballs in any more of a negative sense than I use the term puckballs. Especially since the tweet itself was a joke, as were 99% of the unpopular opinions tweets in my own stream. I actually didn’t know until I was told at lunch today that Maureen even uses the term, since I tend not to follow twitter that closely and get the sense that you think I’m more of a fan of hers than I am. In my head, sportsballs and puckballs come from the same place. Puckballs in fact coming from a place of not being able to use sportsballs to envelope hockey, because there aren’t any balls. (On the ice. I’m sure there are lots all over, um…because those guys are kind of hardcore.) I am aware of the things my friends like and I am generally interested in them and do not ever endeavor to tear them down. I just like it when other people are excited. And while I don’t always understand that excitement, I like sharing it.

    So, I will probably continue to use sportsballs in my vernacular, but will try not to aim it at you specifically if you really think that I’m trying to be dismissive of you and the things you like when I do so. Which I’m not.

    • Well, this post is more addressing Maureen Johnson and those who picked up the term from her, and the attitude in which I most frequently see its use. I cannot recall you ever using the term before her, and so yeah, it was a fair assumption that even if you didn’t get it from her directly, you got it from others who got it from her. I hope you note that I did specifically make mention of how your use of “puckballs” comes across differently to me. You never use “sportsballs” with me directly (and, for the record, hockey is a sport, so… yeah, it counts with all the others), which helps to further exaggerate the divide between an affectionate term you (and specifically you) use with your hockey-crazed friends and a condescending term used by non-sports-enjoying nerds in the direction ridiculous sports fans in general.

      Your tweet didn’t drive me into a rage or anything. I wasn’t angry at you, or even particularly annoyed at you. I’ve been trying to think of blog posts, and when I saw your tweet, I thought, “Man, that term frickin’ annoys me. Hey, I can blog about that!” And so here we are. I’m sorry if this post hurts or offends you in any way.

      • I did note your distinction. I sometimes forget I live in a big universe and that I haven’t made up anything I pull from the aether, because when Alli mentioned this post to me I was kind of flabbergasted that anyone else used the term, since I thought I’d made it up and don’t tend to come across people using it who aren’t friends of mine. It’s obviously very possible I pulled it from Maureen in some way, but it wasn’t intentional and I don’t remember her saying it before I started using it. (Or since, but we’ve already touched on that!)

        This post didn’t offend me, I just got the sense from it that I had offended you and wanted to address it. And now we can both be offended by how narcissistic me thinking I’ve just made things up comes off. After that we can hug it out, and feel all warm and fuzzy like a peach in a microwave, which is a phrase I WAS certain I’d come up with in middle school, but heard on TV the other day.

        Now I’m seriously considering making a post about living in the collective conscience. ALL THE POSTS BEGETTING ALL THE OTHER POSTS.

        • I think we’re cool; we’re cool in my book. I promise you didn’t offend me, you just spurred on an idea. Which is good! I like ideas and stuff. I will try to remember that when you say “sportsballs”, you don’t mean it in the MJ way. I can’t promise I will always succeed, so if I fail, feel free to bop me on the nose with some newspaper and I’ll go sit in the corner and think about what I’ve done.

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