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.