Cricket Tragic: How the game “seeps into an author’s life”

This week in North Philly Notes, Samir Chopra, author of The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: My Shapeshifting Journey, writes about how the game of cricket informed his life.

A memoir can be a score-settler against real and imagined foes, a confessional from a therapeutic couch, a made-up story to reconcile oneself to the present, to seek exculpation for the many sins we commit in our lives. I suspect my book The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: My Shapeshifting Journey is all these things. Unapologetically.

In my book, through the act of writing a memoir of a fan of the game of cricket, I wanted to clarify the internal world of a dedicated sports fan, but with a difference: I had not had a stable identity through my ‘sports career,’ and so as the game of cricket changed—as it had to, in response to a changing world of politics, culture, technology—so did I, a paired dance of shifting identities that made for some interesting interactions between the two. I wanted to contribute, in my own way, to cricketing literature, a great corpus of writing, dominated by the works of professional writers and its players but not so much by its fans. I sought to do so mostly as an act of personal discovery and understanding but also as clarification and illumination of that entity whose commitment to the game supply its attendant dreams and wellsprings of motivation and passion. Players of the game, we must remember, begin their lives as fans of it first.  

‘Fan,’ it is said, is short for ‘fanatic.’ I do not think of myself as one, but my following of cricket has been described in similar terms: “obsessive” and “cricket tragic.” I suspect this term means, as my book shows, that my following of the sport is a loaded business, that I see much more than just sportsmen on a field, more than just bat making contact with ball, when I see players playing. It means that the game seeps into my life; that I derive lessons from the game for my life; that the changing events in my life influence the interpretations I place on sporting events; that I take the game to illustrate important truths relevant to the ways we live our lives; that the game influences how I view the world and its peoples, and of course, how I view myself.  

A ‘fan’ then, is someone who will laugh in your face if you say something like, “Relax, it’s just a game.” You would not say to an avid reader that a book is “just words on a page,” or “just ink marks on wood pulp,” would you? Once you see that, you see that the sports fan is not watching a game; he is reading and writing a text. He is reading the game, and he is writing himself into its playing and meaning. In doing so, he is changing the game itself because the products of his imagination inform the way the game is understood by others.  

Our lives are a long process of self-construction and self-discovery; cricket has aided me in both these endeavors; It was how I learned geography, history, politics, literature, and indeed, how to write. I am an immigrant, and so I have either multiple homes or none; this displacement always meant that my understanding of a “mere game” would be informed by this absence of a stable political identity, one riven by all too many conflicting imperatives and influences. Cricket was the mirror that let me observe myself as I morphed and transformed; this book is an attempt to reduce that resultant blur just a bit.

Temple University Press Fantasy Football Returns!

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press acquisitions editor Ryan Mulligan writes about this year’s Fantasy Football League, COVID, and masculinities. Let the games begin!

In March 2020, a month when certainly nothing else happened in the world, Temple University Press released Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports by Rebecca Kissane and Sarah Winslow. The book looks at the online world of fantasy sports. The authors argue that while the disembodied space of online gaming might theoretically provide an opportunity for men and women to engage in sporting competition and fan culture on a level ground not found in in-person competition and fandom, in fact, male participants have a tendency to overinvest in the activity and gender it as male. The authors find that many men find in fantasy sports an opportunity to live out boyhood values that they feel increasingly out of their reach as they grow older: a proximity to highly masculinized activities and figures, the illusion of managing other people (in particular athletic bodies), a performance of coldly weighing statistical value over emotional investment, and a competitive play that invites bragging. Thus, while men and women both participate in fantasy sports and enjoy it, the authors found that many of their subjects described their leagues as masculine spaces and the men in their leagues as obsessed to the point where their league distracted and detracted from other aspects of their life.

Against these somewhat foreboding findings, Temple University Press decided last year that in order to prepare to publish this book, Press employees might become more familiar with its subject if the Press were to have its own fantasy team. Who would a university press compete against in fantasy sports? Why not other university presses? So as the 2019 NFL Season kicked off, Temple took to the Association of University Presses email listserv to recruit other university presses to compete in a University Press Fantasy League. The response was enthusiastic. A great many people wanted to show that their nerdiness extended from academic publishing into sports nerd-dom. Unfortunately, some presses had to be turned away. The league opened with fourteen teams. Given the findings of the book, it was heartening to see that four of those teams boasted at least one female manager. The league was highly competitive and all teams remained extremely engaged throughout the season, but there was no trash talk to speak of in the league’s forum. Bonnie Russell and Julie Warheit of Wayne State University Press were crowned champions.

A month after the close of the NFL season, as baseball players prepared to take the field, Whose Game? released. And suddenly, sports were put on hiatus as the world confronted COVID-19. Baseball was postponed, the Olympics were put off to another year, and basketball and hockey were interrupted. Moreover, workplaces closed, shoppers stayed home, and families went into quarantine. (Temple University Press continued to operate with all employees working from home, which continues to this day and seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future.) The virus shut down working life and recreational life all at once. Many academic books will emerge about this unusual period of American life and as a sociology editor, I am hopeful that some of them will look at how hegemonic American masculine identity complicated families’ adaptations to domestic life in this period. Denied work, and denied sports, what was left to do and still be a man? Is it any wonder fireworks sales spiked? Is it any wonder an American president driven by a tragically inflexible sense of masculinity would encourage sports leagues to restart as quickly as they could? Is it any wonder that Dr. Fauci would applaud the move as important for Americans’ sense of normalcy, purpose, and even mental health?

The pandemic has thrown a curveball to academic publishing as well, through our buyers, readers, and other stakeholders. Many of the events and mechanisms that we normally rely on to sell books are still unavailable, and while we’re doing as well as we can, control feels fleeting at best. So as sports returned and a new NFL season rolled around, I started getting emails from managers of last year’s participants in the University Press Football League. The University Press Fantasy League is back for year two of fantasy football. Three new teams would replace competitors from last season and some presses passed managing duties between colleagues. In this moment of controlling the uncontrollable, Fantasy makes a game of uncertainty and adaptation. And it feels normal and rewards a little bit of extra insight in a way that is fleeting outside of the league. The league is not exactly the same, though. Compared to last year’s 10 out of 14, this year, 12 out of 14 teams have only male managers.

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