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THE WRITING ON (AND OFF) THE WALL EVEN THE SCORE FOR MOM.

Byline: TOM HOFFARTH

One night a few years ago, Stella Bender felt she had no choice but to write a letter to her oldest son, Craig, exasperated again by the fact that he drove up all the way from his condo near San Diego to the Granada Hills family home and spent most of his time in front of the TV set.

Dear Craig:

My son lives a few hours away from our house, where he grew up. Naturally, as a mother, I always look forward to his visit. We talk and catch up for a short time and then, you know what comes up next ... sports! He sits there on the couch and watches sports for most of the remainder of his short visit. He explains that this is his relaxation time and how important some stupid game is. Though I enjoy spending time with him, I don't like spending my time watching sports like he does.

So I go in the other room and do my own thing.

How can he just sit there, watching sports all day and night?

My husband enjoys sports, too, but he only watches his golf or special events like a big game. My other son enjoys sports and loves football season, but doesn't just vegetate on the couch for the other sports out there.

I obviously love both my sons ... but I truly feel that when my oldest son watches sports, knowing full well that I don't like it, that he almost purposely excludes me from spending the kind of time that I want when I'm with him.

Can you please help me understand what it is about sports that takes my son away from me?

-- A Loving Mother

This was a guilt trip-kind of sentiment only a mom could get away with. But Craig read through the third-person reference and sincerely got the loving message behind it.

Enough so that an idea he'd been working on for a book started to make much more sense. Important enough, too, that after taking a year off work to finish it, he got it printed with his own money after several publishers turned him down.

"Sports Fan 101: Score the Balance in your Relationship" (AuthorHouse, $19.95, 217 pages) has become Bender's self-help, how-to guide based on a personal journey through strained relationships in which sports turned out to be an unnecessary wedge. It's an examination and explanation of what makes a sports fan like himself tick, and what he (or she) needs to know about how a non-sports fan can feel disconnected.

If the two can open up communications, figure out priorities and be realistic, the scoreboard should come out favorable for both.

"My mom and I fought for years over this," Craig, 33, admitted. "Her letter confirmed the problem that my watching sports had created. And that's why I had to finish writing the book."

Craig Bender doesn't pass himself off as a sports version of Dr.Phil, and he's not about to speak in psychobabble terms.

His degree from UC Riverside is in business administration. He's a pharmaceutical rep for a company that makes medicines for pets.

He speaks from the heart, a sports fan who, growing up, formed bonds with the Dodgers and Lakers, and lately with the San Diego Chargers. With the help of exercises on his accompanying Web site (www.sportsfan101.com), he sees the bigger picture and feels he knows more about the importance of other kinds of bonding.

"I'm just an average sports fan who wants to make a difference," he said. "Besides my mom, I know there were other relationships where the time spent watching sports affected them, too. The non-sports fan makes the sports fan feel guilty for watching their favorite sports. Quite often, the stress mounts, affecting an otherwise good relationship."

On a day like today, when mom needs to know where she stands above all else, it's worth taking the temperature again of that fan/non-fan, son/mother dynamic.

"By seeing the world through the eyes of my mother, who has no sports background, I understand now why she hates sports. Mom feels she is competing with sports for our family's attention and affection.

"But she's always been a part of my sports life growing up, driving me to practices and games. Now with this book, I think she's able to see the world better through my eyes.

"Our relationship is a work in progress. No matter how far we've come, there's still more to do. We've learned how to agree to disagree on things, but at least we're communicating. I've been taking my own advice. Now I have the words to express all this."

Today, on Mother's Day, Stella Bender has requested there be no sports watching. Craig just hopes it doesn't become a family tradition.

Besides, he knows he can just record it and watch it later anyway.

"It's her day," he said. "She's been a saint. She's my biggest fan. She never threw away my baseball cards. That says a lot."

So does the book, which, appropriately, is dedicated to her.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1) Craig Bender's book looks at relationships between sports fans and non-sports fans.

(2) CALVIN BOREL

(3) DALE EARNHARDT JR.

(4) AMANDA BEARD

Box:

(1) sunay punch

- Tom Hoffarth

(2) The Pop Quiz
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 13, 2007
Words:892
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