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Life Lessons

How To Watch Sports, According To The Defector Staff

Boxing fans watch a televised fight between Albert Finch of Britain and Baby Day (Lewis Warren) of the USA, in a bar, UK, 7th February 1950. Day won on points.
Photo: Keystone/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Here is how a bunch of sports bloggers decide what sports to watch. The habits range from “I think I just know” (Dan) to shit that might leave Archimedes scratching his head (Lauren). What all of us have in common is that we don’t make time to watch your favorite team because we hate them, specifically, and will never write about them, ever.

Kelsey McKinney:

I watch sports like an old person, to be honest. I still pay for cable because I like to channel surf and I like to watch all the local baseball games and I hate how when games are streamed they are always three seconds behind. What I do is at 6:00 p.m. when I’m done working, I turn on the TV and I scroll through the guide (the sports are all green) and find some sports to watch. I also have all the Capitals, Nationals, and Texas football games saved as Google calendars so I will get a calendar alert for those. If all the games on TV are bad, I will switch to the ESPN app on the Playstation and watch whatever other game options they have.

Maitreyi Anantharaman:

My sports interests are pretty catholic, and each is a sweet flower requiring my love and nurture. I have iCal subscriptions to the Pistons, Tigers, Red Wings and Michigan men’s and women’s basketball schedules—you can download the feed from the team websites—and I’ll toggle the calendars on each afternoon to get a sense of my options that night. I check the ESPN app to see what’s going on elsewhere (often on the lookout for spicy WNBA or women’s college hoops matchups) and then make a rough plan for the evening in my head. As of this year, I’m a hockey lover, which meant easing up on NBA consumption. This is less “habit” than “brief but intense fixation I’ll unpack with a therapist one day” but around February, I became a Canucks fan for no good reason and watched just about all their games, including the ridiculous Calgary matinees and one game against Montreal that began at 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. I don’t watch non-Tigers baseball, but I’ve been a little Tigers-crazy lately and enjoy scoring games in my brand-new scorebook. On fall weekends: Red Zone, mostly, and college football surfing. I’ve about given up on primetime NFL games. The one Olympic sport I keep an eye on in non-Olympic years is swimming. 

Tonight [Thursday], there are zero WNBA games, the Spelling Bee, a Tigers-Twins game at 8, and Game 2 of the NBA Finals an hour later. I haven’t scored a Tigers game in a while and Tarik Skubal is starting, so I think I’ll watch that and flip over to basketball and the Bee here and there. Also, Berrettini-Hurkacz Wimbledon semi in the morning! I like both of those guys.

Barry Petchesky: 

I generally watch only my home teams’ games, except for playoff time. I used to keep track of when my teams were playing via ESPN—the app and/or the website—because I had starred them, and that puts their games right up front in the score box. But now that we all share an ESPN+ subscription I’m logged in with that, so it’s useless for letting me know what time the mighty Yankees are playing. So usually a few times per week I’ll just google “Rangers schedule” or whatever. And then at game time have to hunt around for the right channel, if MSG has multiple events that night. (Yes I still have cable, no I don’t subscribe to any streaming services. So sue me.)

David Roth:

I will never organize my leisure time, or indeed any aspect of my life.

Giri Nathan:

There’s not much logic to which NBA I’ll put on. I watch the Nuggets out of love, the Knicks out of something deeper and more sinister, specific players I like and make a point of keeping up with (Zion, LaMelo, Aleksej Pokuševski), and then whatever West Coast game happens to be on after I’m done eating my too-late dinner, because I lack standards and will consume pretty much any refuse at that hour. Tennis is year-round and in a variety of convenient time zones so I have it on in the background most days; during the Slams and Masters I watch it more intentionally. Soccer goes up if something particularly big is going on. In darker times I used to watch pro squash obsessively. Might start doing that again.

At no point are calendars ever involved. I don’t need to consult a calendar to know Frank Ntilikina is slated to brick five jumpers in the neighboring borough; I can sense it in my bones. By which I mean I just google it several times a day without ever really retaining the information.

Laura Wagner: 

Aside from easy-to-remember schedules like NBA playoff games, I navigate to ESPN dot com every day and click through the top bar of events, which has my “favorites” saved. For tennis grand slams, I usually download the tournament apps, some of which are good and some of which are bad, and try and watch whichever players I know the least about.

Drew Magary:

I rely mostly on my old circadian rhythms when it comes to watching important games. I know when it’s NBA playoff time, and when March Madness is (March), and that the Masters comes the week March Madness ends. So I instinctively know that I should be tuning in for that shit. A quick run through the cable guide or a visit to ESPN.com gets me exact times and channels and what have you.

I know when the NFL season starts, obviously. Every week I check the primetime slate and decide which games are gonna be worth staying up for and which will be shit. I also make sure I know the Vikes’ opponent and time slot each week because I never miss a game of theirs. I don’t have their season sked memorized or anything. I have to check at the start of each week and then plan accordingly.

Everything else is extremely half-assed. For CFB, I usually just consult the cable guide any given fall weeknight or Saturday to see what my options are. During every other sport’s regular season, I flip around at night and decide if any of that shit matters to me.

And there are moments where I’m only aware of certain events because either you guys or Twitter alerted me to it, and then I decide if those are worth my time. Every important soccer game is like this for me.

That was all incredibly boring, wasn’t it?

Oh and fall Sundays are for Red Zone if the Vikes aren’t on. I never miss that shit. It’s my job.

Justin Ellis:

My TV habits seem to swerve between drone-like habitual viewing, or all out panic. We recently decided to do a dedicated watch of the Clone Wars animated series, and now all I want to do is watch all the episodes whenever I can collapse in front of the TV. This is probably a product of pandemic watching: If we start a show, whether it’s Lupin or Nate & Jeremiah By Design, it must be watched completely and without mercy. It’s not the same with the sports schedule. Instead of fitting my life around the sports calendar, I just fit in the sports around everything else? Being back in Minneapolis made it easier to watch Wolves games over the winter, but some nights you just can’t endure D’Angelo Russell heaving shots in a drowning effort against Sacramento. I can’t remember the last time I put on a Twins game on TV on purpose. We watch Lynx games when they are on because Mitu is a new fan and the ESPN app reminds us. Also, because my partner is from the UK we’ve watched the Euros regularly, and our brains have adapted to the mid-morning/early afternoon schedules. (I have now also heard almost every version of Three Lions, and can tell you it is the bleakest nationalistic jam I have ever experienced.) I’m much more likely to watch playoff hockey or NBA because my brain tells me “there will be a game on tonight by the time this day is over, and the odds say it should be good.” I used to think this all made me a bad fan, now I think it’s just…life?

Tom Ley:

The only planning that goes into my sportswatching is that a few times a week—I have to do it a few times because I am forgetful—I will type into Google “nuggets schedule” or “everton schedule.” Those are the two teams that I watch the most, and I will make a mental note to watch them at a certain day or time based on the results of my search. I’ll also usually check to see what nationally televised NBA games are going to be on TNT or ESPN for that week, and I’ll make a plan to watch them if they don’t suck.

Other than that, I usually end up watching a lot of soccer just because it’s on early in the day on the weekends, and it’s easy to fall into a game that is on before or after the Everton game. And lately I’ve been looking up days when Shohei Ohtani is probable to start so that I can try to make some time to watch him pitch.

That’s it.

Lauren Theisen:

With the NFL season, the NHL and MLB playoffs, the later stages of the Champions League, big title fights or other rare events, I simply watch whenever I am around, with rare exceptions (a puke Thursday night game, a 3-0 first-round series, etc.)

On less meaningful evenings when I am free, I have rules that come into play. During the men’s college basketball season, I will watch if Michigan is playing or if the game in question has been given a KenPom “thrill score” of 70 or above. During MLB and NHL regular seasons, I dutifully follow another complicated algorithm: I go to the league websites and add up the win totals of the various matchups, then watch whichever is the highest. (Exceptions are in place for folks like Ohtani or deGrom.)

During Premier League action, I will try my best to watch when Chelsea is on the pitch or if two teams in the top half of the table from last year (first half of this season) or this year (second half of the season) are colliding. (Rules are void if I am asleep.) And during college football season, I will tend to watch a game if both teams are ranked, or if a game between a ranked and unranked team is within one possession in the fourth quarter.

I try to keep a solid work/life balance by avoiding sports when I’m off the clock on at least two days a week. This goal was not met during the NHL playoffs.

Albert Burneko:

I don’t have any sort of system or procedure for deciding in advance what sports to watch! During the basketball/MLB seasons, I will think to myself “I wonder if there are any games on right now,” and then I’ll check the lil’ guide interface on the TV, and if there are any games that look good, I check ’em out. Also if I happen to think to check during the afternoon and there is basically any MLB game on, I will watch it. Also, outside of the NBA playoffs, it’s pretty normal for me to miss a decent-sized chunk of any non-west-coast basketball game I pick to watch, because we all share a TV in my home and it’s better to find a movie we can all agree on than to force everybody to watch, like, Pelicans-Nets; it’s easier for me to watch a whole west-coast game because by then everybody else has gone to bed. On weekends, if I happen to be up and not busy in the morning, I’ll check to see if there are any cool soccer games on. I will only watch the cool ones. Do not put any baloney MLS crap in front of me! I will spurn it.

Patrick Redford:

At the start of each week, I check a few basketball schedules—When are the Kings playing? Which nationally televised games are worth a shit?—and will try to keep them in my head, checking the schedule on the NBA site as needed, so I can have a game or two on my laptop pretty much every night from 4-10 PT, toggling through League Pass to see what’s worth watching. I prop my computer on top of a big jar of flour as I chop vegetables for dinner.

I take a scattershot approach for other sports: if the A’s are on and I’m not, like, busy, I will passively watch them, but I won’t plan ahead. I’ll try to watch the later EPL games on the weekend or maybe wake up for the 7 a.m. game if it’s enticing enough, though there’s not too too much active strategizing here. Most of my soccer-watching is centered around USMNT guys. If, like, Gio Reyna is playing, I’ll watch him instead of an Everton-United game or whatever. Cycling falls into a similar category, though I will use steephill.tv to scope out which Tour de France or Giro d’Italia stages I should be waking up early for.

I will only watch hockey if the San Jose Sharks are in the playoffs and I happen to be at a bar with the game on. Now that bars are a thing again and the sun is shining, I’ve enjoyed walking to downtown Oakland and watching playoff hoops at this horrendously overpriced sports bar. Again, very little of this is planned. It’s nice to be surprised, I guess.

Now that we are four paragraphs in, I can tell you that I watch almost every Overwatch League match. It’s an out-and-out obsession: I read the subreddit pretty religiously and will put the games on on my phone even when I’m driving (safely, of course). Anything I can’t catch live, I’ll go back and watch on their YouTube, which is really convenient and now that each team is playing just 16 matches and they’re first-to-three instead of first-to-four, it’s much easier to consume everything. Okay goodbye!

Ray Ratto:

I have several tiers of sporting involvement to which I adhere almost without exception, starting with watching in silence. I do not yell at inanimate objects when alone, and I do not engage in unnecessary conversation with other mammals about said game during said game. I just want to see what the hell is going on without the jolly drunken fuckwit on the barstool to my left explaining it to me badly (rules are slightly different with people already certified as friends), I do not throw full cups of alcohol into the air to celebrate a score, I have no favorite team save the team behind in a series to extend said series to seven games, and I am agnostic on the matter of muting annoying announcers. I have been known to call my wife to utter an expletive when I am driving home from somewhere and am listening to an event that I know she is watching at home, as I did Wednesday night to celebrate Tampa Bay’s goal in Game 5 over Montreal with a simple “Shit!” that she understood immediately. In this way, and many others, she is the Jesus of cool.

I also prioritize all playoff games over all regular season games, and in this order: Hockey (because of the possibility of endless overtimes plus sudden death), basketball, soccer, baseball, big event individual sports, then football. If you couldn’t bet on football, it would be cockfighting, and Comrade Magary can hold his breath until Comrade Ley turns blue and my opinion on this matter would be no less crystalline in its correctness. Also, I like teams in danger of relegation to save themselves for the agonizing death rattle later, savoring it like a fine $8 wine.

I tend to hate whatever team the loudest person near me cheers for as a matter of taste, I hate people who compare players to players from earlier eras, I hate people who say the old days were better and people who say “That’s the best player I’ve ever seen” as though that’s some kind of standard for anything except your own self-involved bullshit. Nobody cares about almost all of your opinions, Socko. Belt up.

I hate all owners, almost all coaches and almost no players. I root for games ahead of teams unabashedly, and for labor against management in almost all matters. Plus, I believe defunct teams are better than active ones, thus the Quebec Nordiques should win the Stanley Cup every year and the New England Patriots should go 0-85 to even out a bit of that Belichickian smugness. I like that there is a team in the third tier of Northern Ireland soccer named Lisburn Distillery and would break my lifelong vow and take free swag from the club at the compromise of what minimal integrity I still claim.

I am, in short, the game-watcher guy other people sell their houses to avoid, and life is good.

Kalyn Kahler:

For the NFL, my main sport consumption, I watch all day on Sunday, and have 2-3 screens going. My main TV has the local game, like Chicago or Green Bay and I’ll flip back and forth between the local Fox and CBS games. I usually pay the most attention to whatever team I am writing about at that moment or a team I am keeping an eye on for a future story. Last season, I watched a really depressing amount of Bears and Lions games because I was digging into their dysfunction. I’ll put RedZone on on my computer to see more successful games, and then sometimes if there’s another game I want to see in that packed afternoon window, I’ll get my second laptop going with another stream, usually [REDACTED]. I always watch MNF and I only sometimes watch TNF, if there’s something interesting about the game or if I really have nothing better to do.

For MLB, I really only watch the Cubs or Sunday night baseball, so I will look out my window to see if the Cubs are playing (I can see Wrigley from my apartment). If the Jumbotron is on, I put on Marquee Sports and if they aren’t, I still put on Marquee to find out where the hell they are. It’s very scientific.

For the NBA and NHL, I only watch playoff games really, and I can’t for the life of me remember which channel is TNT so I end up scrolling for at least five minutes to find the NBA game.

For Olympic sports this year, like gymnastics and track and swimming, I take the broadcast dates and times from the NBC Olympics press releases and manually input them into my calendar in capital letters so I know it’s important, like, OLYMPIC TRIALS!!!! and then I set at least three reminders, because I know I’ll forget to watch otherwise. There’s probably a better way to do this, which I should probably figure out before the Olympics start.

Dan McQuade:

I don’t know how to answer this question, really. I wish I had a routine to share. But after decades of being a sportswriter, I think I just know when the sports are. I read about sports every day, my brain remembers which sports I would like to watch, I remember what time the games or matches or fights or races start, and then I watch them.

Also if I forget the Phillies are playing, who cares, they probably lost.

How do you watch sports? Feel free to drop your routines, be they demented or boring, in the comments.