Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
TALKING ABOUT SPORTS
Being in sales, I talk to many people each day. Before jumping right into a discussion of business issues (such as: “Our truck delivered your order to the wrong place,” or “I have to raise your prices 20-percent—starting yesterday,” or “Yeah, I know our product is inferior to the competition, but at least it costs more”), I like to start out with a little friendly chit-chat.
My favorite chit-chat topic is sports. I love talking about sports for three reasons: (1) I’m a sports nut; (2) America is a sports nut country; and (3) I’m reeeeally a sports nut.
Luckily, most of my customers like to talk about sports, too. For example, last month I had a great 45 minute discussion with a guy about the proper way to grip a baseball to throw the perfect change-up. We both agreed if Mariano Rivera would have thrown just a couple of change-ups in the seventh game of the World Series, the Diamondback hitters would have cork-screwed themselves into the ground swinging too early and the Yankees would have won their fourth straight championship. (The guy is a Yankee fan and being the good salesman that I am, I downplayed my Red Sox fanaticism and empathized with his point of view.)
As I drove away from his office, I said, “Wow, and they pay me to do this!” A few moments later I realized that I had neglected to discuss any business issues and I’m not sure whether the guy has any idea what products I sell. I made a note to talk about business during my next visit, unless of course, we get to talking about the proper way to grip a baseball to throw the perfect slider.
But I’m starting to wonder if maybe my cultural horizons are a bit too narrow. The other day I met with a prospective customer and began chit-chatting about a current sports story. (One of the great things about sports is that there’s always a current sports story. Practically every week there’s a key playoff game taking place somewhere, even if it’s the quarter-finals of Camel Polo in Morocco.) The customer just shrugged and said, “Sorry, I don’t follow sports.”
No problem, I thought. When he says he doesn’t follow sports, he means televised team sports. I’ve met guys like this, usually prep-school types who never played football because it interfered with yachting season or something. Although these unfortunate fellows have missed out on the character-building experience of spending a frigid December afternoon in Giants Stadium with 70,000 other fans and 24 beers (or was it 24 other fans and 70,000 beers? It was hard to tell by the fourth quarter), they nonetheless enjoy sports. But it’s usually la-di-da trust fund sports, like squash or golf or horseback riding.
When I tried to talk about these kind of sports, he abruptly said, “No, I’m just not into sports at all.” And that’s when it hit me: If I can’t talk about sports, I’m pretty much at a loss for words.
I was so flustered I simply got up and walked out of his office. As I drove away I muttered to myself, “Am I really this shallow? Do I have any thoughts at all about other topics?”
I began to list some typical non-sports subjects, plus anything I might know about them:
Literature: “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton was a milestone in the publishing world.
Art: Tiger Woods’ swing is a thing of beauty.
Finance: Can you believe how much money the Patriots are paying Drew Bledsoe to be a second-string quarterback?
Real estate: I love the way Fenway Park is nestled into its surrounding neighborhood.
Politics: When he owned the Texas Rangers, George W. Bush traded away Sammy Sosa for Harold Baines. (What was he thinking?!)
Religion: When a player makes the sign of the cross before stepping into the batter’s box, does God ever cause the pitcher to serve up a hanging curve ball?
It was quite a revelation to discover that I’m practically illiterate about anything outside of the sporting world. But there’s still time to do something about it. I’m only in my mid-40s. I can change. I can take steps to make sure embarrassing loss-of-word situations do not occur again.
As I drove down the highway I vowed from that moment forward to educate myself. I would read more, ask a lot of questions, and learn as much as possible in advance about the personalities of my prospective customers—so that I’d never again waste my time visiting another sports-hating weenie.
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