Sports and Thanksgiving: The ongoing tradition

As seen in this 1900s postcard, playing football has always been a common tradition for American families on Thanksgiving break.

Whether it’s going to your grandma’s house or watching the Lions decimate the Eagles on national television, everyone has a Thanksgiving tradition. That said, I wanted to find out more about these traditions. I sought out the three most important people in my life — my girlfriend, my best friend and a random NYU student I met on the street — and asked them about their Thanksgiving sports traditions, which were pretty drastically different.

My girlfriend hates sports — it’s almost a deal breaker. However, her entire extended family is infatuated with flag football. They have an almost unhealthy obsession with pulling tiny plastic strings. The game usually starts around 9 or 10 a.m., and her father and her grandfather draft the teams. Her 6-foot-5 brother is usually drafted first, and she, standing at 5-foot-3 and 103 pounds, is usually picked last. Like most family events, the game this year started out friendly and then inevitably broke out into a grudge match built on an entire lifetime of grudges. Her father busted his lip and her uncle strained his leg busting her father’s lip. She stood by and watched the action unfold. I, as the ever-faithful boyfriend, laughed uncontrollably as an entire family reunion was ruined on a muddy field in the middle of the country over a game of football.

My best friend, on the other hand, is the biggest sports fanatic I’ve ever seen. His room is decorated with sports icons ranging from John Elway to Anthony Davis. His tradition includes multiple families from his neighborhood, which comprises about 30 families. Everyone comes out to the local basketball courts and watches as the children play. As they day goes on, the adults, drunk, step out onto the court to show off their inebriated skills. This usually leads to the wives walking away to finish their cooking, leaving the men to their misguided machismo. After all this, the families return to their houses — brows dripping with sweat — and attack their turkeys like they attacked the court. They think they can take too much, they fail, they lose all interest and then they go to sleep.

In the short time I spent with the random NYU student, I learned that his family, which consists of his two moms and his sister, goes to the park. His family, which consists of his two moms and his sister, go to the park every Thanksgiving and just toss a frisbee. There’s no objective, no points — only family bonding. They spend the good part of two hours watching ducks flock around their local pond as they throw this piece of plastic back and forth. As he described this, a noticeable smile spread over his face. His story wasn’t a special one. It didn’t contain busted lips or drunk adults, only a loving family spending an amazing moment with each other. And isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?

Email Kyle Ryan at [email protected]

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