A couple of winters ago, distressed by the end of the baseball and football seasons, I decided that it was my time to get into hockey. Hockey was a perfect sport for me to learn to love because it is (in a normal year) played when my other favorite sports are not, and I had some basic knowledge of how it worked since I grew up watching the Stars with my dad. But I hadn’t really watched hockey as an adult. I did not understand what “backchecking” meant and I wanted to, but could not figure out how. I watched a few games while mainly looking at my phone and felt hopeless.
A friend recommended a hockey podcast that I now really like called You Can’t Do That because (and I quote), “your favorite part about sports is the drama.” Now while this is rude, it is also not wrong. I do love drama! I love rivalries and sworn enemies and underdogs defeating terrible goliaths. I love stories and gossip. You Can’t Do That used to have a segment called “Dreamboat of the Week,” where the hosts would introduce us to a hockey player that we could love, and that, my friends, is where I met P.K. Subban.
If you do not know, P.K. Subban is a hockey player who used to play for the Nashville Predators and now plays for the New Jersey Devils. He is a defenseman who grew up in Canada, and does some very hard hits into the boards. He posts workout videos on his Instagram and rarely some videos of his dogs. Almost immediately after learning about P.K. Subban I developed a giant crush on him. I followed him on Instagram and promptly began talking to my pals about him.
This—not reading analysis, or choosing a team, or reading blogs—is my No. 1 tip for learning to like a sport. This is just like in middle school when you suddenly learned a lot about Radiohead because some girl loved them, and then you started liking Radiohead yourself. This is the path in!
We’re not talking about actual sexual feelings that lead you to do irrational things like believe you might actually have a chance with a professional athlete. We are talking about a crush. We are talking about following a stranger on Instagram and liking their posts, about telling your friends little anecdotes about them. P.K. Subban is engaged to Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, which is perfect because I also have a crush on her!
Now some of you might be saying, “Kelsey, I am a man, and I have in the past been yelled at by a woman in my life who was very smart and very thoughtful and who corrected me for objectifying female athletes.” To which I say, congratulations on having women in your life who still have the patience to do that work for you! And good for you for listening.
Let’s talk briefly about the difference between objectification and appreciation. Let’s use a man for this exercise because well, women athletes are objectified all the time and not appreciated. Let’s use Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
We can all admit that most athletes are hot as hell. The whole thing about being a professional athlete is that you’re in perfect, abnormal shape and also you use your body for your job. Smith-Schuster is no exception. He’s 6-foot-1, 216 pounds, 23 years old, and has a very straight smile. I’m not going to continue describing Smith-Schuster by the details of his body because while he is an athlete and we have already clarified that athletes have good bodies, this is objectification. That is not our aim here. Our aim is appreciation. Our aim is a crush!
What makes JuJu Smith-Schuster worthy of a crush isn’t that he’s hot. What makes him worthy of a crush is that he is a whole interesting person. We will ignore for now his true flaw: attending the dreaded USC. Some good reasons to have a full crush on JuJu Smith-Schuster which then could allow you to learn what a two-point-conversion is on your journey to learning to love football are: he has a really cute dog name Boujee who he runs an entire Instagram account for; he is the second-eldest of seven (7!) children, and he recently started a foundation to help support youth initiatives. Does he do stupid shit sometimes like drive a BMW 100 mph on the highway and post a video of it just weeks after getting a concussion? He sure does. He’s a whole person who you could choose to have a crush on!
When choosing a crush it is important to think more about interest compatibility than physical attraction. You want to learn to like baseball and are interested in social justice and reading books? Might I recommend Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle?
This also *gasp* works for women’s sports. The difference in gross sexual objectification and a crush is an appreciation of form and personhood. Sure, you can use a women’s soccer player as an easy way to learn how to love soccer. I’m doing it right now! For that same prompt (“social justice and reading”) you could take USWNT and Portland Thorns FC defender Becky Sauerbrunn. I’m currently on the hunt for a basketball player to have a crush on, and then I will have crushed in every sport.
The key to crush culture, though, is to remember that all crushes are temporary. This is not stanning or even being a fan of someone. Those categories require you to overlook fatal flaws. Having a crush does not. If your crush is accused of a crime or just does something you dislike, you just drop them and find a new crush. This is middle school crushing, bay-bee.
Once you have your crush picked out, you’re well on your way to learning to love a new sport. It’s easy to transition from a crush to a fandom because by having a crush on one player on a team, you will inevitably catch a crush on another player on that team, and before you know it you’re a Washington Capitals fan screaming about slashing penalties or whatever. The crush is the best place to start with a new sport, though, because there is always someone to have a crush on.