Campus Sports Culture When You Don't Like Sports

A sport event. Also a marching band. (Fall 2011)

A sport event. Also a marching band. (Fall 2011)

What is it like to attend a big sports college when you don't like sports? Or when you actively dislike all things sports-related?

Sports culture was something I was worried about before I started college. I have never been a fan of team sports, and am 100% disinterested in being a spectator for any and all sporting events (with the slight exception of when I know someone involved. Then I care only to the extent that the event is important to them as my friends).

This is not a moral judgment. It is simply how I am.

So I was worried about what it would be like to be studying, socializing, and living on a sports-heavy campus while not participating in the sports fandom or events. I was worried that I would feel ostracized by my enthusiastic peers, or isolated during home games.

And, indeed, I sometimes experienced these things. Large groups of my friends would head to games together, and the team’s progress and prospects was often the subject of extended conversation around town. I sometimes felt isolated and alienated from this major campus cultural phenomenon.

But here’s the thing: mostly it doesn’t matter.

There are thousands of people on campus. Not all of them care about sports.

In my four years at an NCAA Division 1 University, I did not attend a single football game.

Or basketball. Or baseball. Or anything.

While I’m one of the only people I know who can claim that particular distinction, I will not say that this non-participation had any negative impact on my college life.

There are some serious advantages of not caring about your school’s sporting events:

  • Take advantage of amenities when the competition is elsewhere. Go grocery shopping with no lines! Take your pick of exercise equipment! Game days were my favorite times to hit the gym in any given season.
  • You can create routines with friends who also dislike sports: that’s your regular TV/café/hiking/knitting get-together time. If you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out on good community times during games, create your own community and have an alternative get-together.
  • Study time. If you honestly don’t care about missing the big event, then you can study away to your heart’s content and not feel like you’re missing out on anything. Most distractions (i.e. fellow students) will be otherwise occupied. Get work done during the game that will leave you free for more interesting activities later in the week.
  • Do colleagues a favor. Particularly if you have an on-campus job, volunteering to take an extra shift during the game can mean you’re doing a true act of kindness for a colleague without actually suffering a hardship on your part.
  • Finally, and quite significantly, your mood cannot be impacted by the athletic success or failure of people whose actions you have no control over. You will never have your day ruined by a lost game, or a cloud over a season when a top player is injured. You are immune. You are free. 

I am absolutely certain that every campus has a solid group of the sports disinterested. You never have to be stuck alone.

Depending on your own comfort with being a campus non-conformist, you might find yourself taking some small degree of interest in the general sports news. You will also develop strategies for politely deflecting sports-related conversations.

You can also have the opportunity of practicing cultural anthology on your very own peers. Observe sports behavior. Observe fan behavior. Marvel at the fact that you might (unknowingly) be sitting next to a near-celebrity in your sociology class, having a conversation without the slightest knowledge or interest about how far they can throw a football or how many free throws they’ve scored (or whatever). It’s an interesting experience to be an outsider in part of your “native” culture. As a non-sporty student at a sports-oriented school, you will be a minority among an oddly-behaved majority. Let it all wash over you. Withhold judgment in favor of honest, uncritical observation.

Or go ahead and be critical. That’s fine, too.

Note: I did end up attending one football game in my six years at the University of Oregon. When I received the Mitchell Scholarship at the end of my UO Master’s Degree, I was invited to attend the Thanksgiving football game at Autzen Stadium in the President's Box. I don’t even remember who won the day...


If you liked this post, check out the guest post "Playing Club Sports in College" by Miles Raymer. You might also enjoy my post "TV and the Over-Committed College Student." 

Please leave any sporting comments below. Any other coping strategies when you're in the lonely minority? Thoughts about alternate activities? Advice for relevant anthropological experiments? Please leave your suggestions, opinions, and fan-related critiques below!