Posted on August 8, 2013
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.)