Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Monday I post a new column.
It’s time for the high school football season, wherein unexceptional athletes across the nation will be cheered on by classmates, parents, and creepy middle-aged men who never got laid in high school and sit in the bleachers by themselves gawking at 16-year-old girls.
It’s been 12 years since I was in high school, yet every year around this time I still celebrate the fact that I no longer have to report to football practice. I recline in a comfortable chair, crack open a beer, and make a toast to not spending most of August stuck in a locker room with half-naked dudes who smell like a thousand farts unleashed at the same time.
My memories of football practice are plentiful. The fresh-cut grass, the warm sun shining on my face, the camaraderie amongst teammates, the butterflies in my stomach before the first day, the sharp tension before a big play, the exercise, the discipline, the teamwork: These are all things I deeply oppose and despise, even today.
Whenever I drive past a high school in August, I always laugh at the tired, miserable kids running sprints in the hottest month of the year. Sometimes I even roll down the window and shout helpful advice like, “Quitting isn’t as selfish as you think” and “If you weren’t doing this, you could drink or get high every day before your parents get home from work”.
These suggestions are based not on careless assumptions, but on years of experience with mediocrity in sports. I hold many Minnesota state records for athletic failure, including the honor of being the slowest wide receiver in state high school history. The average running speed of an 18-year-old man is 15 mph, yet I was regularly clocked at 4 mph. I once reached 5 mph, but was only able to maintain the speed for a few seconds before collapsing into a diabetic coma.
But I never gave up. I did what Nike and Gatorade and those posters with the cats hanging from a branch said to do. I spent 10 years of my youth assuming that if I tried my best, I would eventually become skilled enough to not be mocked by my coaches, my teammates, and the parents of my teammates. But I was wrong. Nike and Gatorade were wrong. That stupid cat – who’s probably already dead, judging by the age of that motivational poster – was also wrong.
I was one of the worst high school athletes to never quit, which is why I’m now preaching the virtues of quitting to others. My decade of torturing myself only culminated in one down of actual varsity football experience, in which the quarterback threw the ball to me over the middle and a linebacker three times my size struck me so hard that I landed on a football field in another town.
Then my coach drove his car to the field in that other town and politely informed me that if I was going to get hit anyway, I might as well catch the ball. I tried to give him the finger, but all of my fingers were broken.
In my senior year of school, God and Jesus and The Holy Ghost and possibly the rotting corpse of Jerry Burns got together and decided they’d use fate to force me to stop playing. In the last practice before our first game, I dislocated my shoulder and was out for the season. As I watched from the sidelines all year, I realized how much better sports were when opponents were unable to beat the living crap out of you or repeatedly kick you in the groin while you were struggling to hold onto a fumble at the bottom of a pileup.
Some people say sports help kids build confidence and self-esteem. These people fail to mention that those sorts of benefits only occur if you’re actually good at playing sports. Students who are terrible and keep playing end up having no self-esteem, leading to lifelong prescriptions of Lexapro, bizarre facial tics, and the unfortunate habit of marrying people much fatter than them. People who suck at multiple sports develop even worse habits like serial killing, cannibalism, or writing crude humor columns for alt-weekly newspapers that still haven’t replaced the editor who resigned eight months ago.
Our society needs to start rewarding quitters instead of shaming them into wasting countless hours being talked down to by grown men who teach gym class. We need a strong ad campaign championing legendary people and all the things they quit.
For instance, Simon Cowell quit high school and now gets paid millions of dollars to sit behind a glorified card table. Enrique Iglesias quit college to do whatever stupid, boring thing he’s doing now. Carson Daly quit his dream of becoming a professional golfer and now gets paid what I assume couldn’t be more than $20 per night to host a late-night NBC talk show.
Quitting isn’t just for losers. It’s also for whiners, crybabies, sissies, people who refuse to wear padded spandex pants in 90 degree heat, and most importantly, for people who obviously shouldn’t be playing football in the first place. I may not have been a quitter back then, but I’m proud to say I am now.