Crying At Sport

(This was written after the tribute to murdered Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh following the Collingwood v Hawthorn game)

I don’t cry at normal things. It’s always something I’ve been a little concerned about. I didn’t cry during break ups or unrequited love or sad movies as much as would be expected. I didn’t cry when my cat died. I only ever cried in pain or anger. I didn’t cry like other girls and didn’t seem to feel things as deeply. My emotional responses didn’t appear very “feminine”. In recent revelations, this has started to make sense to me. And now I’m starting to understand who I am and why the death of Phil Walsh, and particularly why the moment of the teams huddled together being addressed jointly by the two coaches, affects me as a tragedy. Why it leaves me crying in front of the tv.

I am sitting on my couch, wrapped in a thermal sleeping bag, crying my eyes out. Because 46 men stood together and mourned their friend or their mentor or their colleague or their friend’s boss or their coach.

I’m a sports nerd. I love it. I don’t go to conventions or binge watch TV anymore. I don’t go to theatre and listen to cast recordings anymore. I watch sport. I read about sport. I talk about sport. I listen to podcasts; I read forums; I travel to go to games. I even tried my hand at being a part of the action. And I know I come off as a bit of a dumb jock sometimes, but sport matters to people like me, people whose emotions are invested in their passion. Mine happens to be the thrill and heart of competition.

Sport gets a deserved bad reputation, especially of recent “front and back page news” stories lasting months, and won’t stop any time soon. People in the spotlight fuck up on a bigger scale. But this is the same world that inspires me, makes me feel alive. It’s my theatre. Its the ultimate reality tv. Its drama and sometimes its tragedy. And watching the occasional shitshow that the AFL subreddit can these days turn into a soulful, solemn, respectful, passionate wake of sorts, it made me remember why we all talk to each other.

Its because we put bits of ourselves into our passion. By giving our attention, our effort, our time, we leave our soul in this culture. Almost like a horcrux. This culture and community of opinions and rivalries and egos and heart and family and losses and wins, it becomes a vessel you’ve poured yourself into. And it takes a bit of you along for the ride.

And when the passion you’ve invested in is glorious, then you feel the glory. But when a member of that prominent family is taken away in the middle of the night, those parts you left behind hurt. The only positive thing to come from that sorrow is the unity of the community. When cricketer Phil Hughes died a world sport grieved for one of its national sons. But this is not the rest of the world. This is a footy code almost exclusive to an island and its ex-pats. And this is unprecedented.

So I’m crying. And I’m appreciating the pieces of soul that so many people I’ve shared this love with left behind. I’m not crying because I’m not connected to the man. When my girlfriend told me this morning I was half asleep, and asked, “Who’s Phil Walsh?”. Once the name had a face and a life and a history, it hit harder. I saw how the world I love grieved.

Tonight I’ve seen men be brothers instead of colleagues, and men sharing their grief instead of shielding it. I’ve seen a sport played the best way (Collingwood inaccuracy aside), for the win and contest and contact. But I’ve seen it played the right way too. And that’s a beautiful thing in the world of sport.

Well done, Hawks and Pies. Hats off. I’ll buy you a drink.

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