Geek Versus Nerd via Sports Analogy

I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve broached this subject, and since then we have picked up followers and commenters. In other words, we’ve picked up some folks who might like to weigh in on the discussion. It’s kind of an obvious question for us, because we chose Geek in our name: the Comparative Geeks. But what does it mean to be a Geek? And how is that different from a Nerd?

Indeed, defining Geek in terms of what Geek means versus what Nerd means might be easier and more meaningful than trying to define Geek in a vacuum. As has been said to me, we don’t Geek in a vacuum. When you try to take either of these terms on their own, you get the definitions that we talked about in one of our very first posts.

Found on http://www.thingsnerdslike.com/movies/star-wars-vs-star-trek-make-it-so/

It’s kind of like this, only not.
I used this on https://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/star-trek-vs-star-wars/

We’ve shared things like the Geek vs. Nerd Rap Battle before. We’ve talked about King of the Nerds. And we’ve explored geekdom from other angles in our Geek 501 posts. But today I want to talk about Geeks and Nerds in terms of an activity that is not normally thought of as Geeky or Nerdy, but is instead for some reason “mainstream” or “popular” or “normal” or whatever the opposite would be.

Sports.

The Sports Geek

When I think of Geeks, I think of folks who are incredibly passionate about the things that they are a fan of. And the other people in their life maybe don’t get it, but they also find friends – their fandom – to join up with. That’s important to them, because again, we don’t Geek in a vacuum.

Geeks also often move beyond simply enjoying a thing, to interacting with them more, to taking them out of their original context. As I wrote recently, Geeks create – they dress up as their heroes or favorites, or play games, consider what-if, watch the awards or the blogs or the other things around their fandom.

Okay, so tell me: how is this different from much of hardcore sports fan’s enjoyment? The folks who buy season tickets, or even more go to all the away games, or make sure to watch every game. Watch the sports recap shows, or follow sports blogs. Maybe watch what’s happening on draft day, or speculate in what’s going to happen with player trades. And at the games? Maybe they have a giant foam finger, or maybe they’re painted up in their teams colors and going all-out.

Hey look, a demotivational poster from the Internet! I didn't have to make one of my own.

Hey look, a demotivational poster from the Internet! I didn’t have to make one of my own.

And what about the not-so hardcore fans, but fans nonetheless? Maybe they exhibit some of the things above, but not everything. But then, there are things that can draw them in regardless of how much they watch or participate: gaming elements. Maybe some harmless gambling, an office pool for who’s going to win March Madness (with all of the associated pairings mapped out!). Or maybe it’s a Fantasy League, and they’ve built their own team of players, strategized about who should be their starting lineup, poured over the day’s stats to find out how their team played, and kept going for a whole season. Or, you know, many.

First off, I hope you’re seeing the parallels. If the activities I described at the top can be considered “Geeky” traits, then what I have described are Sports Geeks. Maybe really extreme fans, maybe casual fans who find fun ways to interact with the sport. Maybe loyal to the home team, maybe to one from their home town, maybe whoever’s the top dog at the moment. But Sports Geeks, caring a whole lot about something that is really not much more “useful” than the entertainment that non-Sports Geeks turn to.

Because either way, it’s entertainment.

Sports Nerds

As opposed to Geeks and their enthusiasm and interaction with things, I equate Nerds with the desire to know more about something, to dig deeply, maybe almost obsessively. They can be experts, although often looked down on for being experts about something “useless.” Insert joke about learning to speak Klingon.

I feel there is also a side to being a Nerd that has to do with being smart. The smarts are often given grudging respect – in the fiction, in Hollywood, you see the Nerds picked on, but also turned to for homework help and the right answer. Indeed, it is in these scenarios that you tend to see the jock, the Sports Guy, in opposition to the Nerd. And never the two shall be one.

So how on Earth am I going to define a Sports Nerd?

Well, ever met those people who know sports statistics? Who has how many of what record or statistic or what have you. Lifetime batting averages. Free-throw percentage. There’s a stat for everything.

Hey look, a meme from the Internet! I didn't have to make this one either!

Hey look, a meme from the Internet! I didn’t have to make this one either!

And these stats are pervasive, at least if you’re watching televised sports. The announcers regularly and constantly are pulling from vast stores of statistics to give you one at every turn, many of them utterly ridiculous but accurate. The most somethings for a game this late in the regular season play but before the playoffs from a team out of the running to go to the playoffs… You know, stats like that. This information is somehow known, and in such a way that you can be sure that it really is the most, in comparison to all the rest of the stats.

Okay, so computers probably deal with a lot of those stats anymore. Good thing Computer Nerd isn’t a phrase… Still, there are several sides to this: someone started keeping these stats. Someone has kept all of these stats. And someone thinks it’s a really good idea to share these stats with viewers. And you know what? I think there are a lot of someones.

And Never the Two Shall Meet?

Okay, to say again: we don’t Geek in a vacuum. And I don’t think there are necessarily people who are just Geeks or just Nerds. From my examples above, the Sports Geeks must love hearing about the stats too, and hey, they help with the gaming and strategizing elements. And the Sports Nerds obviously portray other fan attitudes and activities, instead of just keeping score.

But I know what it’s like to spend more time in talent tree calculators than actually playing an RPG. I know that it can be easy to Nerd-out over the things you love, to dig way deep, to conjecture and plan and to know way more than anyone ever needed to know to enjoy the thing itself. You can be both Geek and Nerd, and indeed probably are, and saying “versus” is actually probably the most problematic part of all of this.

If There Were Going to be a Versus…

You would think the “versus” should actually be between Geeks and Nerds – the “outsiders” – and the sports fans. Maybe for having a longer history, who knows, but sports fandom is an okay fandom, but Star Trek or comics or any of the Geeky fandoms are somehow not okay. They somehow make one socially awkward or something.

They somehow turn “geek” and “nerd” into derogatory terms, rather than self-identifying terms.

And maybe I’ve hit on it, and history is the reason for this. Maybe it’s the physicality of it, which we for whatever reason equate to being more important than the skill needed for the arts, writings, performances, and other creations inherent to other fandoms. Maybe it’s evolution and biology.

But as I mentioned in a throw-away example above: think about an office gambling pot for who is going to win a sports tournament. Do you think there would be the same reaction in the workplace if we wanted to gamble about something else? Like, what’s going to happen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, or which comic-book-based TV show gets canceled first? I think there would be, and to be fair, I feel like my examples are bad because I don’t even know what the Geek equivalent would be: it’s so rare.

And I don’t want to come across as the “oh it’s not fair!” Geek here. Whatever, I have a great life, and have lived surrounded by Geeks, and often actually outnumbering the Jocks or sports-folk. I think I more just want to say, see how we are all so similar. Geek and Nerd. Jock and Fantasy Footballer. Hardcore and Casual fan. What unites us is how much we enjoy the things we enjoy, so go forth, check out new fandoms, recruit new members to your own, find people with your passions!

Geeks! Nerds! Jocks! Life! DISCUSS! 

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10 responses to “Geek Versus Nerd via Sports Analogy

  1. Speaking of analogies, I saw this and thought of you: http://jingersnap.tumblr.com/post/112305933556/d-d-stats-explained-with-tomatoes

    (Incidentally D&D stats math is really hard for me as a new player, but I’m learning!)

    I think a good intersection of both might be Ben Wyatt from Parks and Rec–he builds a role-playing game, does geeky Halloween costumes (OF HIS OWN GAME), is super into Game of Thrones…. He might be more of a nerd but the balance is fairly good. And he’s a competent adult and not a stereotype!

    Digging the sports analogy for this a lot, especially the commentary on cosplay vs team spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep. That was amazing. Also: salsa.

      I still need to watch Parks & Rec… I mean, Chris Pratt.

      There’s definitely a lot of overlap. Fantasy Football and roleplaying games? Season tickets and midnight showings of movies? Cosplay and dressing up for sports games?

      Maybe the good analogy is actually a tabletop game like Blood Bowl – I have a friend who is in a Blood Bowl league, and they have games every weekend, keep track of the rankings, have playoffs, the works. Tabletop miniatures war game, about sports.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my favorite things about living in Japan is basically everyone is a nerd/geek, and that’s totally okay. Card games, cosplay, you name it, it’s fine. I’m sure there’s the perception that otaku culture is frowned on, but that’s really only when it’s obsessive to the point of ruining you or others’ lives obsessive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard that about Japan. I’ve heard it most recently from Kazu Kibuishi, who talked about how comics are just everywhere in Japan. As such, even though he is Japanese-American, his comics haven’t broken into Japan because there’s so much competition!

      Like

  3. I really like the communal sentiment of this, and that it reminds me of this Venn diagram… http://xkcd.com/747/

    Liked by 1 person

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