A non-traditional holiday experience that reminded me that sports are more than just about who wins and loses
(This story originally appeared in Todd Lisenbee’s newsletter. Subscribe for it and other Sellout Crowd newsletters here)
As I’ve written about many times in both newsletters and stories at selloutcrowd.com, my childhood revolved around sports. My dad was a basketball coach. I played NAIA football for a year after high school. I spent afternoons watching the Cubs and evenings listening to Jack Buck call the Cardinals games. Unsurprisingly, holidays were also filled with sports, especially as Christmas rolled into New Year’s Day. The holiday break meant lots of basketball practices, a trip to the All-College Tournament, NFL football and bowl games.
This year, I had one of the most whirlwind holiday experiences of my life. On Dec. 20, my girlfriend Bex went in for a routine surgery. She was in surgery as I was flying back from Las Vegas with UCO basketball. The surgery went great. She spent one night in the hospital and was discharged the next morning. Her best friend, who lives in Tucson, was pregnant, and with a due date of Jan. 5, the plan was to recover from surgery and head to Arizona to witness the birth and help her friend for the first week or so.
Those plans went out the window very quickly.Our “niece” decided that she was showing up early, and in the morning hours of Dec. 22, Bex got a text from her friend’s husband. He said the delivery had gone well, with a picture of mom, dad and baby right after birth. The good feelings were, unfortunately, short-lived. A short while later, she received the first text from her friend. “Please pray. They’re going to NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)… He said the words, ‘brain damage.’ I’m losing it.”
The decision was immediate. She needed to be there. But she couldn’t fly. Her recent surgery put her at risk of blood clots. We had to drive 15 hours to Tucson. We went through West Texas and traversed New Mexico and arrived in Tucson at 3 a.m. on the 23rd.
For the next few days, we drove from their house to the hospital multiple times to check on “Baby J.” She had been placed in therapeutic hypothermia to cool down her core temperature to stop any more possible brain issues. On our first visit there, Bex and her friend went back to visit the baby. Only two at a time could be in the NICU, so I went with her friend’s husband to a waiting area. I don’t know him that well, but I could tell that he was understandably stressed and worried.
He’s a lot different than me. He’s in the military and a workout fiend who lives a very regimented life. He eats well, works out often, and is very quiet. I’m the exact opposite. In that moment, when everything in his orbit hung by a thread, the one common thing we had was sports.
We watched the Browns-Texans game and marveled at the fact that Joe Flacco and Amari Cooper had turned into a dangerous threat in the AFC. He pulled out his phone and we looked at the NFL lines for the late games. We discussed who would win between the Cowboys and Dolphins. We talked about his trip to Vegas earlier this season to watch the Packers and Raiders. For the first time in the few days that we had been there, he laughed, he smiled, and he let the stress take a back seat. We drove back to their house later that afternoon and watched the aforementioned Cowboys and Dolphins game. Thankfully he took my advice and bet on the Dolphins.
The next morning, I caught a flight back to OKC. Bex stayed with her friend during the NICU stay. Every time they got news, it got better and better. I’m happy to say that Baby J is home and healthy and has a great prognosis for the future. Bex stayed there for a few days and drove the car back, but as I sat alone on my flight home, I thought about what had just happened.
This was the most non-traditional Christmas of my life. My dad doesn’t coach basketball anymore, I don’t play sports anymore, and the All-College Tournament is long gone, but even still, sports played an important role in the Christmas holiday. Maybe the most important role it’s ever played.
As my flight descended into Will Rogers World Airport, I looked out my window and saw the town of Binger. One of the most distinguishable features from the air? The baseball field. We flew by Tuttle, where amidst the light brown winter grass, the field turf at the football and softball fields stood out like a sore thumb.
Sports are important for many reasons. They give us a sense of accomplishment when we play them, an understanding of how to co-exist with teammates, a feeling of community with fellow fans. But sometimes they just give us a much-needed escape from even life’s biggest worries.
Here’s to sports, and here’s to Baby J.