Super Bowl Reservations

Too Much Sports, Not Enough Other Stuff

With seasons of football and baseball in full swing right now (early October 2011-- yes, 2011...I started this hub a while ago), it's difficult for anyone to not be confronted with the topic of sports in everyday conversation...Especially if you are a man (which I am, I think...most of the time, anyway ;), since sexist attitudes still persist in the realm of sports...Especially if you know and are often around a lot of sports fans (Which I am: many of my friends and family members are fans; in addition, at work, though I never participate, we are encouraged to wear jerseys on "jersey" days and "Badger red" on every Saturday, and the TV in the break room is almost always on a sports channel)...And especially if you live in Wisconsin (which, for better or worse, in bitter cold or within the reach of Walker, I do). For those who haven't heard (there's gotta be a few of you outside of our state lines), Wisconsin is rolling at the moment (early October 2011) with its flagship collegiate men's football team, the Wisconsin Badgers; its professional football team, the Green Bay Packers; and its professional baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, all doing impressively well in their respective leagues. And for someone like myself who is not a fan of sports in general-- or any of the major ones in our country (i.e., football, baseball and basketball) in particular --the topic of sports can put one in an awkward, sometimes embarrassing, position.

Whether at work, home, or out and about, hardly a day passes that I am not asked at least once something along the lines of, "Hey, did ya see the game last night?" or "What about that game, huh?" To which my response varies depending on my mood-- that is, whether I feel like saying much or not --and the circumstances (e.g., whether I've actually seen or heard about the game in question). I may just say "Yeah" and nod or shake my head with wide eyes, as though I know exactly what the person or persons are talking about-- even if I don't. Or, in an attempt to be friendly and conversational, I may say "No" or "No, why?", knowing that the obligatory explanation as to what occurred is sure to follow-- even though I don't usually care much about what transpired on such-and-such court, gridiron or diamond. Or, if I actually have seen "the game," I will oblige in conversation with the inquirer and give either my honest impression of it, or perhaps a less-than-honest impression that I know will please him/her or jibe with his/her own feelings about said game.

Moreover, on occasion I have felt pressured to root for a certain team-- typically the "home" team --or to care more about "the game" than I do. At times-- albeit infrequently --I have succumbed to this pressure and pretended to care more about the game and who wins than I really do in order to fit in and feel like I was part of the group, indeed, but also just to avoid a potential dispute and unwelcome turn in the mood of the room, so to speak, when asked about why I have such a lack of support and enthusiasm.

Despite qualms I have about being disingenuous in some of these instances, I still choose to be less than forthright sometimes if I think or know it will keep me from being thrust into the uncomfortable and awkward position of having to explain and defend my stance on sports, which most people I know and am around have trouble grasping and at which they usually take immediate offense.

They are offended because I call into question a core part of their being and of who they are. I challenge one of the most durable, time- and social group-tested aspects of their identities.... So what is this frequently immediately offensive stance of mine, you ask??

Well, basically, I just think that spectator sports have a huge dark side that is never talked about in mainstream America.

Cumulatively as a society, we here in the United States give far too much of ourselves and our resources to sports. Surely this is true elsewhere as well, but I can not speak as authoritatively about other countries, and frankly, for the purposes of this discussion, it does not matter much to me what other nations do-- only what my nation does, since I share in the responsibility here and obviously can't do much to raise awareness or affect change in other countries where the same problem may exist. But yes, too much attention is given to and too much time and money and energy is spent on sports.

And for what? A game?? A game upon which nothing beyond mere bragging rights and perhaps a momentary, fleeting-- albeit sometimes intense --emotional high rides or depends. Certainly nothing really meaningful in a lasting and concretely supportive sense in people's day-to-day lives can or should ever result from the outcomes of sports games, right? Except, of course, for the players, the participants, the people actually in the games. They have something literally and concretely riding on the games and the outcomes thereof. This is, after all, how they make a living, or perhaps how they hope to make a living, and either way, the game represents the culmination and validation of continual toil, struggle, sweat, hard work and will for hours, days, months or years on end. But we-- the observers, the onlookers, the spectators --have nothing to do with that. Yet people-- people who generally have literally nothing to do with the team in question besides being a fan by happenstance and having developed an imagined relationship with the team through TV and sportscasts --still incessantly insist on identifying themselves with their teams by using the term "we" all the time in conversation-- e.g., "We won," "We lost," or "We need to do this as a team..." It's really pathological, isn't it?

To be sure, I'm not saying that what we know the athletes put themselves through, or the games themselves, can't have value or meaning to us; it can and they can...Just not in the same way or to the same extent that they do to those who are actually on the teams, or perhaps closely associated to those on the teams, who either play in or help prepare for the games.

I get it, though...I get how exciting and how inspiring sports can be for people. It would be dishonest for me to suggest that I don't ever watch or get into sports, because I do. I grew up watching a lot of professional basketball on my own and, to a lesser extent, tennis and boxing (well, mostly Tyson fights) with my mother. I fell in love with basketball only after seeing Michael Jordan play. The way he moved on the court, with or without the ball...The way he unselfishly involved and motivated his teammates, elevating their game and their level of play...(So many electrifying assists to the clumsy Will Perdue or Horace Grant under the basket; or John Paxson and Steve Kerr behind the 3-Point Line; or Scottie Pippen on the fast break!)...It was beautiful to me. And it inspired and energized me to get outside and play as much basketball as I could. Basketball was a huge stress and anxiety reliever for me through school, too-- the benefits of which should not be discounted. I mean, I was never that good. I always say I had zero talent to begin with but over time developed some keen skill with shooting (as long as nobody was defending me...lol) and defending. I was one of the kids with "a lotta heart," you know, and I had some physical limitations that prevented me from being as good as I could be otherwise...But that's okay...My experiences with basketball growing up-- watching and playing it --were, and are, basically positive, beneficial things that I would not take back.

Over the course of the last few years I've become as big a fan of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) as I could probably now be of any sport. I follow the UFC, which is the most elite and highest level of competition in MMA, pretty closely and have spent untold hours watching hundreds of fights in their entirety. I have the utmost respect for the strength, stamina, endurance, conditioning and multidisciplined training that it takes to be a professional MMA fighter. I marvel at the degree to which these qualities are possessed, in addition to sheer talent, in guys like Georges "Rush" St. Pierre, Jon "Bones" Jones and Anderson "The Spider" Silva -- currently widely regarded as the three best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

I especially enjoy and look forward to Anderson Silva fights. He has been the consensus No. 1-ranked best pound-for-pound fighter in the world for many years now. I have often watched in utter disbelief as he picks apart and handily defeats top competitor after top competitor with what seems to be superhuman at times mental and physical prowess, exquisite timing and brilliant, beautiful, Bruce Lee-like maneuvers, movements and counter-movements. Yet his inescapable imperfect nature as a fighter and human being is still evident on occasion. In his first fight with Chael Sonnen, Silva proves not only his vulnerability as a fighter but his heart as a champion. After getting repeatedly taken down and beat up for most of the fight, in the final seconds of the final round, Silva manages to suddenly and swiftly catch Sonnen's head and neck in a triangle choke and submit him. Then in their rematch I watched with nervous excitement turning into elation as Silva overwhelms and defeats Sonnen in a much more dominant fashion.

By now you're probably a little perplexed, saying to yourself, "Well, what the--?! Is this guy seriously trying to get on me for liking sports when it's so obvious he likes sports, too??" I'll admit it does seem a bit hypocritical. So am I being hypocritical? Well, I'm definitely not incapable of hypocrisy, but as it pertains to sports and the issue at hand, no, I don't think I am being hypocritical. If I were putting forth a sort of blanket rejection of sports and denial of any redeeming value for sports, then I would be-- but I'm not doing that. And, regardless of my or anyone else's hypocrisy, it does not change what is true and what is important. In addition, whereas a great many sports fans are not, I am well aware of the relative inconsequence of MMA as compared with important social issues, like hunger and poverty. I still spend a significant amount of my time reading about, hearing about, thinking about and advocating for important social causes.

Sports can and do often inspire many good and positive things-- however transitory and ultimately meaningless those things may sometimes be. But sports, as a whole, are not always good. When they reach the scope and scale of sports in the United States today-- engendering such mass obsession and mass fanaticism --when people often care more about the games being played than grave human events shaping the course of history, it is a situation that is much more harmful and bad than beneficial and good. This mass obsession and fanaticism with sports-- along with propaganda systems more generally and the pro-corporate bias that already exists --endanger and threaten the potential health of our society-- and, by extension, the global community --by weakening the force and cohesion of social movements for democratic change thereby hindering and hampering progress towards ideals of democracy as well as individual and social empowerment. Sports help achieve these anti-democratic ends in both subtle and overt ways.

First, and foremost perhaps, like Noam Chomsky and other liberal-minded thinkers have pointed out, sports serve an important institutional role by being-- whether by design or purpose, or not -- such a major distraction from things that really matter and mean something in people's day-to-day lives. If people are spending so much of their available time and energy thinking about and participating in sports, then there's not as much time and energy left for people to think about-- and, more importantly, do something to solve --problems of real social concern. This becomes especially true and significant when people spend so much of their time awake (or not) at work, at corporate jobs, where talk of politics and social change is typically frowned upon if not forbidden

Sports also do harm by encouraging a serious "us" versus "them" mentality that often spills over into real life outside of the game-- as opposed to a "hey, let's recognize this is just a silly competition that doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but let's not forget that in the game of life, we're all basically in this together." lol...So the opposing view was a little more convoluted and not as succinct as I would have liked, but you get the point. This "irrational jingoism"-- as Chomsky has called it --plays into and functions to reinforce similar chauvinistic attitudes in other areas of public debate, such as, immigration reform, terrorism and, of course, any and all wars of the past, present and future.

Furthermore, sports foster, as Chomsky says, "irrational attitudes of submission to authority." People are subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, conditioned to think they must or should always listen to and do what they are told by those in positions of power and authority figures. Just note how many times during televised games that cameras cut to the sidelines to show the head coach with headphones on, calling all the shots, or how many times he/she is referred to or represented as the person to which the players "under" him should listen and act accordingly. The inculcation of this mode of thought and action often starts at a young age when kids are told to always listen to and do what their coaches tell them in practice or on the field. The potential dangers of blind and unthinking obedience to authority is aptly demonstrated in the Milgram experiment (1963), and there is no scarcity of real world examples throughout human history.

It's high time we get our priorities in order, or at least not so out-of-whack. Yes, I believe sports do way more bad than good in our society today, but it doesn't have to stay that way. Sports should exist; they just need to be kept in perspective. They should be played and participated in by those who are so inclined. My problem is not with sports per se but with the degree to which we talk about and think about and focus on sports. As citizens-- privileged to be living in the richest, wealthiest country in the world with more resources at our disposal than any other and with great power abroad that reaches far and wide --we have a responsibility, a civic duty, to do what we can for not only those in the United States who may need help, but for those around the world, too, whose despair and desperation may be worsened by our collective actions, habits, obsessions and possible psychosis here. Time is limited for us all, and we all have our own personal commitments and obligations. Each of us needs to decide for ourselves to what extent and how much time is the right amount of time to spend becoming a responsible citizen of the world.

So go on...Watch and enjoy the Super Bowl and the commercials in between this Sunday. But maybe, also, spend a little time informing and educating yourself on the serious important social issues that may or may not interest you, but that concern and surround you every day.

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