Monday, February 14, 2011

#9 Un-American Sports

No, I'm not referring to flag burning or reigning in consumer choice. I mean things like handball, cycling (which is only an American sport in Boulder, CO) and soccer (which is only an American sport if you're still in school).

I became aware of this about a week ago when I was trying to figure out if I would be able to watch the Super Bowl. After some frantic Google searches for a website that would beam this American ritual to me here in Denmark, (thank you very much new neighbors!) I eventually gave up when I realized I would have to stay up well into the wee hours of the morning just to catch the halftime show. For anyone with an active toddler in the house, this is akin to x-ing out the next two days in your calendar and writing, "This is going to suck." Super Bummer...

So I have resolved to try to become a fan of some local Danish sports. I opened up the newspaper the morning after the not-so-Super-in-Copenhagen Bowl (it went so late they couldn't even publish the winner) to peruse and contemplate my new options. Ummmmmmm..... huh? The bulk of the coverage seemed to be devoted to handball. I say "seemed" becuase I have not yet learned to quickly identify the various jerseys and uniforms of different sports and, with my complete lack of Danish, there might have been some soccer coverage thrown in there as well.

Ooops, I mean football coverage. European football that is. Man, this is going to be rough.

To avoid further confusing my poor American mind, I've decided to devote myself to handball for now. It's a seven-on-seven, contact sport whose object is to throw a ball into the opponent's net which was easier to figure out than the rules for ice polo and more palatable than acknowledging poker as a "sport". In my initial reading, I'm finding quite a lot to like.

Here are a few of my favorite bits so far:
  • Fun descriptive plays, like a "player sandwich", which is the contact/block made when a defensive player is fully in front of an offensive player while also blocking the goal.
  • Modern handball was actually invented by two Danish teachers.
  • You can get thrown out of a game for purposely hitting the goalkeeper in the head with the ball.
  • Handball is an Olympic sport, which means the U.S. actually does have a national team
As for super-stars, they do exist. Denmark's Olympic golden boy Mikkel Hansen (featured in the clip below) recently returned from the lucrative Liga Asobal in Spain to play for local team AG København. This wasn't even an older-and-wiser move - the kid's only 23! Take that Lebron!

My new sport is even causing me some spontaneous statistical tics like this dorky nugget which I just wasted five minutes of my life calculating - there are 14 professional handball teams for Denmark's roughly 5.5 million people. That's just under 400,000 citizens per team. I can't think of a major professional American team sport that can even begin to approach that kind of representation. Plus, in a kind of satisfying every-man math equation, I find that making 10% of what top handball players earn makes me 10% more likely to enjoy this sport whereas making less than 1% of the salaries of top American football, baseball, and basketball players makes me... well, mad. Which is probably un-American.