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It’s August, and you know what that means… Football season is right around the corner. But wait. Let me cool my heels for just a second. So, everyone knows I’m a huge sports fanatic. Football, hockey, diving, baseball, cheerleading, volleyball, you name it. (Okay, strike that. Don’t name it. I made that challenge to my bestie who said boules. I didn’t even know what the heck that was until I searched it on Google, and now, I’m depressed that I do.)
Saturdays in fall, everyone knows where to find me—at an SEC tailgate, of course. (Specifically, supporting my Bayou Bengals. Love purple, live gold.) And after a year of social distancing, lockdown, and all other kind of medieval atrocities that drug themselves up from the decrepit crypts of the past to revisit and wreak havoc, I can’t wait to get back into the stands (safely, of course). However, my love of sports doesn’t stop at stadium gates or a remote control. It has spilled over into my writing. I’m an author of sports romance. What beauty to be able to blend two loves into one. Perfection!
Here’s the real secret about sports romances. The romance is at the core. So, even if a reader dislikes sports and/or athletics, he/she can still enjoy the romantic story. What makes sports romances stand out from all other romantic subgenres is that sports, naturally, play a large role in the story. Well, duh! Hence the name “sports romance.” But hang on a minute. Not so fast. This is where it may become confusing for some. In a sports romance, sports may play a substantial role, an essential role, or both. What it can’t be is a backdrop. To demonstrate my point, I like to refer to the 1950s sitcom, Leave It to Beaver.
In the classic sitcom, typical of its time, Ward Clever was the dutiful patriarch of the family. Husband to June and father to Wally and Theodore, Ward faithfully traipsed off each morning in his crisp white shirt, sensible shirt, and polished shoes with a hat on head and briefcase in hand to work to be the breadwinner of his family. But what did Ward do? For the six years that it was on the air, Ward’s actual job was vague. He worked for a “big company” doing who knows what exactly? He could have been a stockbroker, an architect, a real estate agent, an attorney, an insurance salesman, or a slew of other professions. The point is, Ward’s specific job title or duties weren’t important to the narrative of the show. All that was needed was to show viewers that he was a hardworking provider for his family. Thus, the nature of his job was a backdrop.
In a sports romance, it is not enough to have a character be a current or former athlete for the story to be considered a sports romance. If the sports aspect of the story is unimportant and can easily be substituted by something else, then that’s not a sports romance. Rather, it’s a romance with an athletic character. Now, I know the arguments against this position but think about it.
Many of John Grisham’s stories and novels feature characters who are attorneys. It makes sense. His plots deal with the legal system. Being an attorney is a central aspect of many of his characters and plots. In Harper Lee’s American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, it is fitting that one of the major characters, Atticus Finch, is an attorney. Exchanging the professions in these books would create an overall different feel and direction for the stories. Now, what if Frank Kennedy in Gone with the Wind was an attorney? Would it matter to the story? Would it change any outcomes or character arcs? In Bridget Jones’ Diary, Mark Darcy is an attorney. How much does this impact the story? Suppose he was a wealthy run-of-the-mill philanthropist or business investor? Would that make any difference?
Another way to consider it is this. Suppose a story has a character who is a vampire, but that character is never shown doing anything “vampirish.” Instead, the story focuses on retrieving a lost treasure and the only reason the vampire is relevant is because he/she was alive when the treasure was originally lost. The vampire poses no threat to the recovery of this treasure or any other characters in the story. He/she is simply there to provide expository information to the other characters. This wouldn’t be considered a vampire story.
Yet, that is only half of it. Just because a story is a sports romance does not mean it is chock full of sports jargon and Game Day scenes. I mean, it could be but not necessarily. On Netflix, there is a series titled Last Chance U. Its focus is on JUCO athletes. The majority of the show does concentrate on athletes participating in games and training. However, it also highlights their struggles with school and their personal lives. With some shifting, this show could spend more time emphasizing the educational aspect and still be equally interesting. The role of sports would be decreased but still prominent.
Some readers are put off from reading sports romances because they believe the text will be too technical for them to understand. Good and creative storytellers prevent that problem by presenting the sport in such a way that it can be understood by sports novices while not alienating sports enthusiasts. This reminds me of a conversation I had with two former neighbors some years ago. As I was entering my residence one Friday afternoon, one of the neighbors was standing outside speaking with another neighbor. I had been grocery shopping for a Saturday game day party. My neighbor, seeing the bags and being from a rival university, naturally tossed a few playful taunts my way. Smack talking is nothing for me; so, I gave it right back to him. In it, I mentioned that his team had no depth. The other neighbor’s eyes grew as wide as saucers (I hadn’t yet met him). “Listen to you,” he said. To which the first neighbor applied, “Oh, man, she knows her stuff.” (Well, of course, I do. *big eye roll* It’s so sexist and antiquated to think a woman can’t talk sports, but I digress.) So, once the second neighbor realized I could hold my own, he decided to have a go at me. Everyone was laughing and having a good ole ha-ha and kee-kee when the second man’s wife (who I also had not met) came outside and ventured across the lawn to join the bunch. Only, this beautiful woman wasn’t a happy camper. She had an issue…with me…because I had her husband’s full attention. And she clearly had no inkling of what is going on in the conversation and felt left out. Well, that wasn’t my fault, but okay.
What did I do? I changed my language. I began speaking in a way that she could follow the conversation without feeling patronized—something that it seemed her husband had never done. I was able to include her. The basics of many sports aren’t that complex and can be learned in a couple of minutes if one is interested. I convey this to readers who may be hesitant to give sports romances a try.
Okay, okay, I know what some people might be thinking at this point—that I’m biased towards sports romance. I won’t disagree with that. For that reason, it is only fair that I list reasons that a person may want to avoid picking up a sports novel for their next vacation read or rainy afternoon pastime.
First, sports romances aren’t for everyone. Read the rest of this entry »