Another Great Stephen Hawking Story

A person doesn’t need to know me deep in my bones to know that I have as much interest in sports as a headless man has in a top hat. Though it might render worthless my opinions on sports to point out that I was never any good at them while growing up, this was the case. I was so terrible, in fact, that kickball and dodge ball captains would often fight (while I stood red-faced and abandoned even by insincere gestures of courtesy) over who would have to take me on their teams.

Another reason I have no interest in sports is because to my mind, most sports, if not all, lack a real point. I know that participation in organized sports builds leadership and teamwork skills (as well as confidence) in many children, and that this serves them throughout life in myriad capacities.

Still: what kind of madman sits up at night and decides how brilliant it would be to throw a ball into a peach basket elevated off the floor? Didn’t he realize it would make more sense to keep the peach baskets on the ground and to fill them with, say, peaches?

However, without the mad ideas of Dr. Naismith, there would have been no real justification for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s appearing in a classic film like Airplane!.

Anyway, I worked for a while in public relations at a small West Virginia college. This put me in close contact with the Director of Alumni Relations, who also happened to be the wife of the college’s head football coach. I had occasion to hear her say more than once (and this is a direct quote), “Football brings families together!”

I always fought the urge to respond to this with the widely-held belief that there is a notable rise in domestic violence across the country on Super Bowl Sunday. But I didn’t, partly because it’s not exactly provable. Primarily, though, I kept that to myself because the thing I loved most about Football Wife was the thing I hated, too, since I’m incapable of it, even though it comes in so handy from time to time: mindless, misguided enthusiasm.

At one point, Football Wife and I were working with the Director of Admissions to build an image library for the college to use on outgoing promotional materials. During one of our meetings, the three of us were looking through view books and brochures from other colleges to get an idea of the sorts of shots we wanted the photographer to set up and take during an upcoming photo shoot.

“I can get as many athletes for this photo shoot as we want,” Football Wife said, her eyes scanning the book in her hands.

Admissions and I looked at each other and shrugged with our eyes, never actually moving our shoulders. It was a conspiratorial glance between an ex-Library Nerd and a former Fat Guy who both probably had many Bad Memories involving the very idea of sports. Clearly, the number of athletes he and I truly wanted for the photo shoot hovered somewhere between zero and minus-twenty.

“Athletes are just more attractive, and attractive people are more successful in general,” Football Wife went on to tell us, looking up at us this time as we tried to hide our disbelief at what she was saying.

We apparently didn’t try hard enough.

“It’s true,” she said, and when Admissions and I dipped our heads toward our own books, she iterated her assertion with a shrug of self-decided victory. “It just is.”

I looked back up and asked her, “What about Stephen Hawking?”

“Who’s that?” she asked. Big surprise!

“Well, he’s definitely not attractive. And he’s not an athlete because he’s been in a wheelchair for 30 years and for a long time he could only communicate by moving his eyelashes but but but he’s probably the world’s most famous physicist next to Einstein and he and he andandand he’s been nominated for a Nobel Prize andand—”

I was glad Football Wife cut me off before I hyperventilated. “Well, see? Think how much more successful he would’ve been if…”

I don’t know if she finished this statement, of course. I blacked out.


This story appears in Bitchcake Madness!, a collection of short autobiographical essays.

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