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 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 new 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.
TOPIC ONE: RICHIE INCOGNITO
"What's happening to football these days? When I played junior high football for three weeks back in the mid-'80s, you pushed guys around as a team-building activity. If can't verbally assault your teammate, dammit, who can you verbally assault?" -- Your middle-aged cousin who sells insurance.
"Why didn't he just punch him back? He's a huge guy. Who could bully him?" -- Your mom, probably.
"What kind of person names their kid 'Incognito?'" -- Your sister's husband, who thinks he's real smart.
"Well, the game of football isn't like it was when you were a kid: It is now a billion-dollar enterprise, and the locker room is less a microcosm of your high school experience than it is a place of business in which all the employees are in their early 20s and paid for hitting people in the face. In an enlightened age, mental illness is treated with appropriate seriousness, and when a workplace isn't set up to help those who need it -- when power is given to people like Incognito, who clearly can't handle it -- they are flying in the face of not just prevailing corporate attitudes, but also the law. As much as we try to pretend otherwise, football players are not robots who break each other for our amusement: They're actual human beings now. Also, Incognito is his family name, you idiot."
TOPIC TWO: TONY ROMO
"Man, Romo sucks. He's just going to choke this game away by the end. He always does. Romo gonna Romo." -- Your degenerate gambler brother.
"Is he still dating that Jessica Simpson? I don't understand. He's strange-looking." -- Your mom again.
"The problem isn't Romo: It's that Dez Bryant. He's a showboat ass." -- Your probably racist uncle.
"Romo's actually one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL by almost any measure. He's also terrific in the clutch, having brought his team from behind 20 times in the last seven years. You are letting your antipathy to the Dallas Cowboys franchise -- entirely understandable antipathy! -- get confused with antipathy to Romo, who doesn't deserve it. There are probably only five or six QBs in the league that people would rather have than Romo: You just hear about him all the time because they're the Cowboys and the Cowboys exist to be talked about, especially on Thanksgiving.
"Save your vitriol for their lunatic owner, who still believes that the power of thousands of football minds scouring film and our nation's gridirons for hours and hours and months and years is no match for him deciding, just on a whim, 'I like that guy.' The Cowboys are doomed because their owner is an insane tyrant; Tony Romo is just the guy temporarily keeping the ship above water. And Mom, Romo is now married to a former Miss Missouri, ending up with a nice Midwestern girl like everyone back at Eastern Illinois always knew he would. Oh, and Dez Bryant is awesome, and Obama is not trying to take away your guns. Well, maybe yours, Uncle Steve, specifically, but only because you're using it to stir the gravy."
TOPIC THREE: NFL CONCUSSIONS
"These guys are paid a ton of money to run into each other. They know the risks. Used to be, guys just played through pain. Now if they get slightly dizzy, everybody freaks out." --- Your dad, dizzy after one too many CC's and Coke.
"Back in my day … [endless story about high school football]" -- Every male, including those (especially those) who never actually played football.
"HUGE HIT! HE GOT … JACKED UP!!!!! YEAH!!" -- Everybody at your Thanksgiving, at once.
[Leave the room after the explosion of noise to eat. Return when everyone is napping and hit them all in the head with a 2-by-4. Then put the Frontline documentary on for them while you fiddle with your fantasy football roster in the back room. Skip out on the Steelers-Ravens game and go see that movie where Jason Statham beats up James Franco.]
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