David BeckhamCurrently I am assiduously avoiding sports. Literally. Much of my family is in another room swearing at the television as my husband’s alma mater fights to move forward in the NCAA tournament. In the time they’ve cared deeply about the outcome of this game, I have chatted on Twitter, painted my nails a lovely shade of grape, bought two, actually three, new romances based on recommendations from my Twitter feed, and burned a pan of sweet potato fries.

 

I’ve never been into sports. I didn’t play sports growing up. In high school I avoided jocks and the games they played in. In college and graduate school, despite being in the fabled Tobacco Road, I attended one quarter of one football game.

 

When I moved in with my now husband I was appalled at how much he cared about sports. If his team lost a big football game, our weekend could be shot. Hours I’d have preferred to spend canoodling, he preferred to watch the NCAA, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, and, fortunately not very often, MLB.

 

Over the years I have become slightly closer with sports. I do watch the occasional basketball game, and enjoy the current era of women’s and men’s professional tennis. I still, however, don’t really understand football, find hockey terrifying, and loathe baseball.

 

Thus it surprises me many of my favorite contemporary romances feature athlete heroes. Just today I read a book with an ex-NFL hero I adored. I’ve read and reread Rachel Gibson’s Chinooks series more times than I care to confess. I harbor an abiding affection for Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Chicago Stars football players – and I hate football.

 

What is the appeal of the athlete hero? Is it their mastery of a difficult thing? I’m thinking no. If that were the case, we’d see a lot more really hot accountant heroes. Part of it has got to be the bodies. Athlete heroes are always built like gods. But here again, so is just about every other contemporary hero. And it can’t be just the salaries because every fifth contemp has a non-jock billionaire stud.

 

Maybe it’s that athletes rise above class, education, creed, and nation. Every culture celebrates those who shine at sports. Jock heroes are heroes we can all support in part because grown up admiring real life celebrated athletes.

 

My affection for jock heroes has made me, if not fonder, more tolerant and more understanding of sports. Thanks to Ms. Gibson and Ms. Phillips I can follow conversations about hockey and football. Erin McCarthy’s Fast Track series clued me in to the intricacies of car racing. Christine Bell and Meg McGuire taught me boxing’s not just about the fists. Maise Yates showed me the complexities of the rodeo circuit.

 

What about you? Do you love the athlete hero? If so, what authors have made those men come alive for you? Are there sports rarely written about you like to see explored? And, do you have a good sports romance you’d recommend to me?

 

Dabney Grinnan