The general perception is that Thanksgiving is a holiday that is inextricably tied to sports, but my experience is nothing like that all. There are lots of sports on Thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean there are suddenly more sports fans. What it means is that it's one of the two days a year -- the other being Super Bowl Sunday -- when people who know nothing about sports suddenly start talking about sports.
A few years ago, I coined the "Nancy Grace Rule" of sports. Basically: When a sports story crosses over to the non-sports cable-news channels -- when people who don't care about sports start talking about it -- it immediately loses all interest to devout sports fans and, in fact, becomes excruciating to even discuss. This could also be called "The 'Today' Show Rule" or "The Front Page Of Yahoo Rule." When a story hits critical mass, whether it's Lance Armstrong or Alex Rodriguez or Tim Tebow, sports diehards tune it out. If you truly love sports, it's always niche to you.
There's nothing niche about Thanksgiving. When you are one of the bigger sports fans in your family -- as I suspect many of you reading this site are -- Thanksgiving becomes the day where you spend half your time trying to explain why your relatives' dumb, uninformed opinions on sports are wrong and the other half trying to look past the screaming children frothing from a sugar rush so you can watch the damned game. Everybody pretends they care about sports on Thanksgiving. Which is a real pain for the rest of us.
Thus, diehards find themselves discussing tons of topics on Thanksgiving that they've already grown bored of. You need to be prepared for this. Thus, a Thanksgiving tradition here at Sports on Earth: Your Guide to the Tired, Exhausting, Overdone Sports Conversations You're Going To Have On Thanksgiving Day, And How To Deal With Them.
We'll give you three topics, what the "take" of your relative is likely to be, and how best to respond. A lot of this is about attitude. Comedian Sarah Silverman once said that the best way to make sure you get along with your family over the holidays is to pretend they're someone else's family; "If you do that, the little things that annoy you that don't annoy anyone else are much more tolerable." Go into it with that mindset, and answer as we instruct, and you'll do fine.
Of note: This year, in the wake of the election, all Thanksgiving conversations carry the possibility of increased tension. While one should never discourage healthy discourse at the dinner table, this is a good year to remember that this is your family, and these are the people, like it or not, who will end up next to you in the bunker if it all falls apart. This is to say: Try to be good to each other out there.
Topic 1: Colin Kaepernick's protest
"That guy is just trying to draw attention to himself because his career isn't going the way he wanted it to." -- Your great uncle Harold, who always seems to be sitting in the same spot in the corner, even though you didn't see him arrive and his car isn't outside your house.
"He's showing disrespect to the military. That's what the national anthem stands for, and when he takes a knee, he's saying he doesn't support the men and women who fight for this country." -- Joe, your brother-in-law, who keeps telling you about this show about Patton a few months ago that showed you what Real Men were like. Or maybe it was Lombardi?
"You know what I say? I say, 'All lives matter!'" -- Your great-grandfather who walked in when the conversation had been going on for half an hour and was just about over.
"First off, not only was Kaepernick's protest not against the military -- why is it, exactly, that you associate the flag solely with the military? The military doesn't even do that -- it was in fact done hand-in-hand with several veterans. This never had anything to do with the military. That you immediately assumed it did says more about you than it does about Kaepernick.
As for his kneeling during the anthem itself and whether or not it is disrespectful, well, if anything, Kaepernick's protest, whether you agree with it or not, shows more respect for the national anthem than most people I see at sporting events. He is at least acknowledging its power. Most people are checking their phones or ordering beer when the anthem is played at games. I'm pretty sure half the people at this table don't know the words any better than Frank Drebin.
This is the most American thing you can do: to take a political stand, at considerable personal risk (do you think this protest has made Kaepernick's life easier?), because you believe your cause is right and you want your voice to be heard. Even if you disagree with everything Kaepernick stands for, his right to stand for it is something we should all be supporting. Pass the gravy."
Topic 2: NFL ratings are down this year
"The games are terrible, there's too many of them, and there's no great team to get behind. All the games are sloppy, they call too many penalties and the game is more commercials than anything else." -- Your actually kind of reasonable Aunt Alice.
"I stopped watching because of Colin Kaepernick" -- Joe, again.
"Concussions -- 'Uh oh, got a little ding on the head? No, no, you can't play for the rest of the season' -- our people are tough." -- President-elect Donald J. Trump. (Nice of him to show up at your family Thanksgiving. He's got a packed schedule, pretty awesome of him to make the trip.)
"Ratings are down this year, for a variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with anyone at this table at all. Let's go ask our millennial cousins down the hall, the ones we're still making sit at the kids table even though they're in their early 20s now. They don't sit down and watch a full game, and chances are, they don't even have cable. They've long since cut the cord. One of the main reasons numbers are down is that millennials just don't watch football -- or television, in general -- the way they used to. Such a shift was inevitable.
"Also: Does it really affect your life at all if ratings are down? Do you like football? Do you like watching football? Then who cares about some numbers that only make a difference for some suits in a Park Avenue office building? We are far too concerned with what other people are doing. If fewer people are doing this activity that you enjoy doing, well, that's their problem, not yours. You don't need to be vindicated. If you like watching football, keep doing that. If you don't, don't. Take care of your own business. If 10 million millennials jumped off a bridge, would you do that? Also, this turkey's a little dry."
Topic 3: The Cubs won the World Series
"Wow, that was so great." -- Your sister Jennifer.
"In a tumultuous, often tragic year, how nice was it to have something that we could all rally around? The world is divisive, and often ugly. The Cubs gave us all a chance to cheer together." -- Your fun Aunt Alexandra, the one you're most likely to stay up drinking late with after everybody all goes to bed.
"Seriously, who couldn't be happy about that?" -- Literally everyone at the Thanksgiving table, screaming at you, Will Leitch.
"Well, did you read this piece I wrote for the Chicago Tribune about the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry, as a Cardinals fan? Rivalries are important! Rivals should never cheer for rivals, even if that rival could lead to a moment of national healing! Boo Cubs! You people are all fake fans! Booo! Booo! Boo" … OK, who am I trying to kid here?
The world is tough, and people have been very sad. And the Cubs came along and gave people a happy thing to scream about, together. Yay, Bill Murray! Yay, Eddie Vedder! Yay, John Cusack! Yay, Bonnie Hunt! The Cubs were -- sigh -- a likable team that was fun for casual fans to cheer for, and they even brought in people who generally don't like to watch baseball. It's a happy story.
It is, I accept, family here at Thanksgiving, an unequivocal good. As a Cardinals fan, it's always going to kill me. But I will not stand in the way of history. This time: I'm on the wrong side this Thanksgiving. If you shut up about Kaepernick, I'll shut up about the Cubs. Let us all feast together. Happy Thanksgiving. Let's all be good to one another.