Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Play Ball

Peter Schramm has kindly invited me to contribute occasional essays and reflections on sports. He knows that I have been looking for an excuse to justify the many hours I waste watching games on TV and reading something other than Plato or Churchill. Even so, I think this activity requires a somewhat more formal justification, at least for the record.

Whether you like them or not, whether you watch them or not, sports and the culture of sport are deeply embedded in American society. The way we play, act, and think about sports says a good deal about us. We are a highly competitive people. We care about our favorite teams. We love or hate the Yankees or Cowboys; neutrals need not apply. We create sports where none existed before (where did the X-Games come from?). We form fantasy leagues. To be sure, millions care not a whit. But millions who cannot tell a double dribble from a double play also cheerfully pony up money for their NCAA March Madness office pool.

That said, sports are often taken far too seriously. We are awash in commentary. The 24 hour sports channels and internet sites create a need for instant opinion and argument, the stronger the better. Significant stories are few and are circulated and dissected ad nauseam. The same videos of T.O.’s latest outrageous actions, or Bob Knight’s chair toss twenty years ago, are replayed over and over. We jump easily to conclusions and make profound connections about athletes and society. Those who do remarkable things on the court must be remarkable men or women. If they fail, they must be despicable human beings. The fact that our international teams have fared poorly in recent years (the Ryder and Walker Cups, Davis Cup, Olympic basketball and baseball) is taken as a sign of the end of American civilization. Their coaches should be fired and the teams decimated. Kenny Rogers should have his pitching arm amputated.

Or so one is led to believe after watching the latest ESPN Sports Center.

I think not. I do not wish to add to the clutter. The fierce passion of playing or watching sports should be left on the field or the couch, and among friends. There are some remarkable and many ordinary things in sports worthy of comment, but only after reflection and with a certain degree of humility, especially from those who are not in the arena. Comment generally much briefer than this, I might add.

Discussions - 12 Comments

That "sports are taken far too seriously" is not/cannot be shown by ESPN SportsCenter commentary. At most it is only a reflection, and distorted by the lens of "what the general public wants to see" instead of a reflection of the opinions of the fans of a team. As a result, you get this hodgepodge soap opera trash of T.O. and co. on every sports channel/show.

For a real fan, I don’t know if the distinction "too seriously" can work though. I have the blessing of being a Buckeyes fan; I get the thrill of victory every week. I have the "average" status of an Ashland Eagles and Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans H.S. fan, the results varying from week to week or year to year. But I am also cursed with the plight of living for the Brownies for four and a half months out of the year, and any benefit brought by the Buckeyes is destroyed by the Brown’s atrocious play. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect my week. I’m sure I’m less likeable on Sunday afternoons than I am on Saturday afternoons. But, despite how ridiculous that is (it is), I’d feel like something were missing if it weren’t the case.

What’s T.O.? (Just to prove the point that many don’t follow sports.)

Soap opera style commentary aside (Tony: T.O. is Terrell Owens, eccentric wide receiver of the Dallas Cowboys), I like the discourse that develops around sports while we’re waiting on the next game. It’s an excellent thing that people can have such passionate views on their teams, talk and argue all week and have their opinion affirmed or denied on a weekend afternoon in just a few hours.

How ironic, but I actually spent the day at a college football game at William & Mary. The nice thing was that there were no flags on cars or pre-game hype and newspaper coverage like at big schools. Nobody has a "William and Mary" room in their house and you probably couldn’t get the game on TV. Just a bunch of local people putting their sweaters on and enjoying the game with a hot dog on a sunny autumn day. I think they lost - it’s really of no consequence and nobody really cared all that much - but it made for a nice afternoon and the game was pretty close for a little excitement.

Come on Tony that sounds despicable... I much prefer the slight irrationality of Fred’s comments...the bottom line is that sports is about being invested in something. If Sports reflect the community then a feeling of passion for sports is a feeling of pride and grounding in community. I don’t know what William and Mary play... I would never call it football...if that is the atmosphere. In fact I would figure that several of the football players would be somewhat embarassed by your reaction. I am guessing that is why Fred is only an average Eagle fan despite the fact that he played for them. If it is football we are talking about then we need the equivalent of Spartan women in attendence. Lets draw a line in the sand between proper behavior for fans at a golf tournament vs. a football game.

Tony,

I think the lost- it’s really of no consequence and nobody really cared all that much...

You’re joking, right? That afternoon sounds no different than a day with neighborhood friends picnicing at a park...a nice day, but not sport. Fair weather fans are an insult to what sports stand for. It is about competition. It reveals all sides of men (and women; compare a WNBA playoff game to an NBA playoff game and see if you can tell any differences): determination, perseverance, class, strength of mind and strength of body, character or lack thereof, frustration, dishonesty, subjectivity. It’s all there. If not to choose sides and cheer, and look for and enjoy what comes from the team of your choosing, then why go at all? Parks offer nice Saturday afternoons as well.

By the way Fred...are you following the country music career of J.R. McCoy? For the rest of you... he was a great Tailback for Ashland..and at his in High School, Fairbanks...we used to lift weights and go catfishing together...I would venture to say that our catfishing was more spirited than Tony’s response to William and Marry...the weight lifting was always punctuated by Metallica and vomiting.

John

I’m not an average fan of the Eagles, they’re an average team (though with the loss to Findlay yesterday I may need to rethink that as being too generous. Coach Owens is a great one though, and I believe he’ll turn the program around from the direction of its recent history). I’m in the home office on Saturdays listening to the Eagles on internet radio when I’m not at the ’Shoe.

Sorry to insult you Fred... I am just an average Eagles fan...but I know your heart doesn’t pump cool aid.

I knew I would take some abuse. I thought it a much more pleasant day and quite a good contest of athletics (even if I don’t know any of the players’ names admittedly) than hanging around anywhere near the fanatical nut-cases at Ohio State on a Saturday afternoon.

I know you are a smart sensible person Tony. I don’t mean to insult you. But football is a sport for nut-cases. It is a sport where grown men train to be as strong and as fast as possible in order to create maximum impacts in head on collisions. Golf is a good game... baseball may be more american...and if you are watching to admire athleticism then Basketball is also a good choice. But I have always felt as if football should be protected from casual fans. In fact one of the great travesties is the number of tickets not available to crazy college students...these schools want to sell football to the business people who are after a unique venue to break the ice...and nothing more. In other words I think college football doesn’t need high dollar seating..(It isn’t about standing appart from the crazy drunk, the hoi polloi fan...but standing with him...with a painted face, and an equally hoarse voice)and that every ticket holder should pledge upon his sacred honor that he is there to enjoy the game as an end in itself.

My fear is that at some point in time smart people are going to see that you have a good point about entertainment...and then we will adopt policies like those that governed the world cup...and sporting events will be civil and tranquil and bring revenue to cities and accountants will be happy, and everyone will say that it was a positively charming day (regardless of who won or lost).

The problem is...it is a huge business as well as an outlet for Megalothymia...my fear is that the business side of things will inject too much Isothymia into it, by sanitizing it+pricing it out of the range of the most rabid fans. I suppose William and Mary can use all the fans it can get...just remmember that the football players you are watching are walking the fine line between pain and injury.

I second everything John said, and would add that not only is it the proper approach to football, it is what is good about football. Add in the fact (I consider it a fact, but Vince Young made me rethink it last year) that football requires more teamwork than any other sport (regardless of how great one player may be, he can do almost nothing wihtout each position player doing his job), and it requires elements of trust that creates a real form of comradarie. Combine that with sportsmanship (though admittedly, and probably necessarily, it is the most difficult thing to implement into football players) and you have a fine group of men. It is an exceptional game.

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