According to an obituary circulated on social media, which may or may not be either true or a joke, an elderly Ohio man, recently deceased, had left instructions in his will for his funeral procession to be led by pallbearers comprised entirely of professional NFL players from the Cleveland team. That way, when they carried him to his final resting place, the Browns could let him down one last time.
Last weekend, the Minnesota Vikings game came right down to the wire. The spectacle had started out moving in the wrong direction, continuing down that path until Minion could no longer bear to watch, and turned it off. He checked in again at the tail end to assess the damage, and was not only surprised to find the Vikings had finally decided to show up, but they’d actually managed to recover and turn it around. He also then regretted not having stuck with what had apparently at some point become an enthralling event.
His team was winning, but by a small enough margin their opponents could have taken it with a touchdown. And with two minutes left, which is an eternity in football. (As I understand from my husband the sports enthusiast, the Broncos are not a team ranked such that the Vikings should have been losing to them, so aside from throwing off their statistics, this loss would have also been a significant embarrassment.)
Denver made every attempt available to them, and got close enough it could have easily gone differently. It was a white-knuckled nail-biter, even capturing our 2-yr-old’s attention, as he wouldn’t take a cookie when offered before the game was called, which wasn’t certain until there were only 4 seconds left. I let Minion know if they lost, I was prepared to update his funeral instructions to include Vikings pallbearers. (I think I might have gotten razzberries for that! ;-)
I have often told Minion that being a Vikings fan is tantamount to a Greek tragedy. This weekend, though, the Vikings have a bye, so there will be no sweating or hand wringing. (Well, at least, not over football, anyway.)
But I can’t effectively discuss Minion’s obsession with sports without mentioning ... I hate sports. My husband has been good about it, though... he’s never made me a sports widow. If that were going to be the case, we likely never would have become involved in the first place, much less married. He watches Vikings football, and listens to a few talk radio programs to give him coverage of details he’s missed out on because of scheduling, or just having other things to do. He’s a great multitasker, and often does this while also performing any number of the other many projects around the house that benefit our family in multiple ways. (Have I mentioned he’s a keeper? ;-)
So far I haven’t been able to get him to express to me in terms I can understand what he likes about it. (We’re still working on that.) He says he enjoys the team aspects, but that’s about all the intelligible rationale he can offer. In my opinion, I think he’s more or less been “indoctrinated” into the “religion” of sports culture since he was very young. His father was a coach, and not only taught him to play and expected him to, but also ran his household like an overbearing drill sergeant, demanding excellence and perfection. From my perspective — and I happen to be somewhat in the know on the subject — I would call that emotional abuse with long-lasting effects. Minion doesn’t seem to mind, though, and we haven’t noticed it’s done him any obvious major damage so far, so, we’re not rushing out to the psychotherapist just yet.
But everyone comes to their interests from a different perspective. For my Mom, who loves Florida State football, fandom of “The Noles” represents community. It keeps her connected to all the dear loved ones she left behind in the move from Tallahassee, who are still back home watching the games with eager intent.
For myself, I suppose I should clarify, it’s not so much sports that I hate. I played a mean defensive soccer position in my school days. I was pretty decent, too, until my folks made me quit to join girl scouts. (Which I hated.) To be fair, they had originally become connected to the city parks and rec team community because they wanted the next in line of my older brothers (14 months ahead of me) to develop some rapport with his peers and build up his self-esteem. Being teased because your little sister is better than you doesn’t help that situation any, though. As a parent myself, I guess I can understand the challenge that position must have been for my folks, although I do wish they’d have given me some other options for choices in whatever was going to be an alternative for “my thing,” rather than pushing scouting on me, which so wasn’t my thing.
Well... actually... hmmm...
Looking back on it, the organization of Girl Scouts and the social interaction with my friends is very me, but it was how I had to participate in a way that separated me out from the group because of “our religion” I took issue with. But I suppose that’s a different post. ...Or is it? Come to think of it, my folks had a lot to do with impacting my relationship to team activities and athletics in general, largely because of my Mom’s interpretations on what kind of behavior is acceptable for a “Christian” walk of life.
I was also pretty good at volleyball, too, but that’s the sort of game that mostly gets played on beaches and in bars, where there’s all sorts of debauchery, so that was out. In gymnastics, when the coach saw a plausible future for me, he called up my Mom and begged her to make an exception, upselling what he believed my natural talents, if properly honed, could do to benefit me in the long run. But she couldn’t, of course, because the uniforms were too revealing, and there’s too much focus on body movement. And the coach of track, where I showed the most promise, bless her heart, wanted me on her team so badly, her phone conversation with my Mom resulted in screaming, swearing, and an abrupt hangup. (By the coach — which unfortunately didn’t help her case any.) But the shorts are too short, so, you know... no go.
Not surprisingly, given the other latent physical abilities I’d already displayed, ballet dancing and synchronized swimming also came very naturally to me in a way that demonstrated raw talent with untapped potential which easily could have been cultivated into a formidable skill with the right training. But by then, I knew better than to even bother to ask.
The one sport she would have been okay with was softball, because the outfits were full length and loose fitting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really good enough to have much interest.
Decades later, is it any shock I turned into a fluffy desktop potato? I often wonder what my life might have been like if I had been allowed to bloom where I was planted, and blossom into the creature I could have been, but for the stunted development of my god-given gifts. It’s a fortunate thing for me I’m not also a dunce, with no other natural aptitudes, or the creative capacity to shine where I can, else I might possibly have otherwise turned out positively useless in this world.
But what benefits could have been gained in my life from being trained to embody the personal discipline that must be imparted in order to master any level of athletic challenges? Or the spirit of camaraderie that comes from learning to be a valuable member of a team, along with all the other life lessons and skills that can be gleaned from working together with others to achieve a common goal? The advantage of discovering how to identify the values offered by individuals within a group dynamic in order to put to best use the strengths available, and accommodate for the weaknesses of each as a total unit, so that no one falls, but rather, all rise together, has the kind of real world applications that make it understandable why team sports are a requisite course of every public education curriculum.
So, yeah, it’s not so much sports I have a problem with. There are so many activities that officially fall into the sports category, it would be incredibly closed-minded to write it all off. Running, dancing, swimming, cycling, weight lifting, martial arts, wrestling, etc. — these are all technically considered sports.
To excel in most sports requires not only impressive physical skills, but also above average mental fortitude. I would never suggest otherwise. Great athletes are often smart. (Mediocre players are generally not that bright, but then, the same applies to mediocre operatives of most any outlet; likely factoring into how they reach their limit at mediocrity.) But one has to be at a minimum somewhat brainy to succeed, because games of sports don’t only involve the flexing of brawny muscles.
Football, for example is a highly tactical game requiring intense planning, preparation, and strategy, not to mention extensive hours of practice, and personal dedication. I’ve never had much knack for strategy games, myself, so I can only look on with a sort of wide-eyed awe. I’ve even been known to enjoy a game or two now and then on the rare occasion when I feel there’s anything to be personally invested in the outcome.
No, my general opposition is relegated to the degenerate professional sports culture that permeates society in this country. (I can only speak to its effects in this country, because I’m sadly not world traveled enough to have any insights into what is happening with civilization globally as a result of the professional sports phenomenon.) The reasons for my vehement reactions on this matter are varied and multiple, but they can mostly be summed up in the observation that the combination of tribalistic sports fanatics as a whole, the outrageous antics of gorilla jocks, and the gluttonous, predatory, corrupt big business of the institution, predominantly represent everything ugly about this country at its absolute worst.
PROFESSIONAL SPORTS CULTURE...
...IS INVASIVE, SUPER SATURATED, OVER MARKETED, OVERLY COMMERCIAL, AND OVER EXPOSED
There’s hardly a corner of this country that hasn’t been overrun by the overreach of professional sports culture. You can’t turn on any network or move about in any public setting without running into high energy conversations about last night’s amazing play or devastating loss, that team’s prospects for making it to the finals, speculation on whether this injured player is out for the season, or when that suspended player is going to be let off the bench. Even my own husband will occasionally forget himself and begin trying to capture my attention with some amusing tale he heard on one of the sports broadcasts he follows, only to be met with my standard response:
“Honey. You need some friends. You realize you’re talking to me about sports, right???”
There’s an underlying general presupposition among the opiate steeped masses that most any yahoo one might encounter ought to be sufficiently well-versed in the language of sports. Being a woman, I have a natural out, in that I can “play dumb” and my ignorance will be easily dismissed, if not forgiven. I usually get around being dragged into the boredom of tedious minutiae about past or future bouts of professional sports games by asking intentionally dense questions.
“So, is that the one with the caveman club and the urinal cake, or the old man cane and the hoop thingy?”
I get to be excluded from sports talk after that.
Men are not so fortunate. Young boys risk being mocked, bullied, or made to feel inadequate for not being able to relate to sports culture, or giving proper deference to the “right” team. And heathen help them if they got no game. I shudder at the prospect of being male in this country without daring to speak the language of sports, in all its many dialects.
I know several spectrum folks in my Geeks & Nerds group — who have absolutely no interest whatsoever in either playing or watching any sports — have made it a point to keep up with local and national major scores and headlines, just to be less awkward when the subject comes up, and to always have something to talk about to almost anyone. To some degree, I like the idea of a universal subject for people who would otherwise struggle, but it saddens me because it’s a false narrative. It just doesn’t work for everyone, so it shouldn’t be forced on all of us.
As if it isn’t bad enough to have the routine expectation of our daily lives regularly include game related traffic congesting our commute, and game play overtime preempting our recorded programs, how is that live stadium games can charge $15 in parking fees, $80 per seat, $12 a beer, $8 per hot dog, $65 a T-shirt, $25 a ball cap, and $10 a souvenir pennant to sold out crowds of over a hundred thousand screaming fans per event, to benefit billionaire owners who pay millions per player, while dodging taxes in a supposedly “non-profit” scam, yet those same owners can never find the funds to cover effective enough repair work on their own damn properties that they’re not digging back into joe taxpayer’s pocket to supplement the costs once a decade?
I couldn’t tell you why lower and middle income fans continue to shell out the fruits of their hard earned labor at these astronomical rates for a temporary experience, along with all the appropriate labels to show they’re one of the proper herd. Belonger mentality is strong with these groups, I guess. I don’t take an interest in every hobby held sacred to everyone in town, but I’m also not going to go telling anyone how to spend their money. Do whatever works for you, as long as it doesn’t infringe on others.
But if I don’t watch sports, and I don’t wish to participate, why can’t I opt out? *I* don’t need a new stadium, if you please, thank you very much. Hell, I wouldn’t even care if we didn’t have a team, if I didn’t happen to know it would disappoint my husband.
Why do I not have a choice in this matter? Why do I have to be complicit in supporting this neurosis? Why are private business venues subsidized with public funding? Surely there are better uses for my portion of collected state revenues. Have all the hungry been fed? Are all the homeless sheltered? Do all our children have safe classrooms, a productive ratio of student to teacher, and enough materials to go around for everyone? Are all the parks cleaned, the natural resources protected, the infrastructure in good shape, and the wildlife properly cared for? These are the kinds of things I would rather earmark my taxes to be used for. A conglomerate cooperative of billionaires shouldn’t need any help from me.
When did we go from being a nation of the types of who would frequently engage in intelligent discourse with friends and family, neighbors and peers, and even newcomers over matters of art, science, history, or politics with a meaningful impact to society? When was the most socially accepted favorite go-to subject for the average man reduced to the lowest common denominator of how a group of strangers handles their balls? And how did we get here???
Professional sports culture needs to be more selective about who it imposes itself on, and leave the rest of us alone to let us get on with our lives in peace.
...PROPAGATES AN INCESTUOUS SUCCESSION OF POOR ROLE MODELS FEEDING INTO POOR ROLE MODELS
Minion believes sports figures shouldn’t be seen as role models. I might agree they *shouldn’t*, but I live in the real world, where I understand no one can change the reality that they *are,* not just because of the way they’re pushed on us, but also because of the way we respond to them. And it’s largely our fault. It’s in our nature. That’s just who we are... We can’t help ourselves.
People get famous for stupid reasons. In this culture, we have a terrible habit of making stupid people famous, often even FOR *being* stupid. Then we adore them so much for being famous, we forget they’re stupid, and lavish on them a kind of hero worship that embellishes their position in civilization as if their mere existence provided some sort of greater value to the world. Many sports figures don’t bring anything of value to the greater collective, and yet still, we trip over ourselves to go all starry-eyed and gooey, because, dang, that dude can jump!
Minion contends these guys are just playing a game — they didn’t agree to being anyone’s example; for them, it’s just a job. I disagree. No, if all you wanted was to play a game, you could just do that with your cronies at the gym. Instead, you agreed to accept millions of dollars, to give up of any semblance of personal privacy, to play a highly televised sport, in a highly public forum, and to become a highly public figure. You wanted the money, the fame, the fans. You don’t get to ignore the responsibility that goes along with that. It comes with the package. It’s part of the job. That’s why contracts include morality clauses — not because sports promoters have any genuine ethics, but because they want to be able to distance themselves from you, if necessary, which would only be if you screw up badly enough in the public eye that it could negatively impact sales, and even then, only if the loss outweighs your value as a player.
The reason it’s obvious those clauses clearly don’t matter enough to be worth the paper they’re printed on, though, is evidenced by simply taking a good hard look at the rap sheets for *current playing members* of practically any national sports team, which tend to read like a who’s who of America’s Most Wanted or, perhaps, in many cases, America’s Dumbest Criminals. USA Today, for example, keeps a running database of the arrest records of all major sports franchises, maintaining records going back 20 years at a time. Currently, for the last two decades, in the NFL alone, the list is at 947, with charges comprised primarily of assault and battery, domestic violence, and drugs. Not exactly the kind of examples you want your kids looking up to.
I certainly do believe athletes can and should be admired for their talents, perhaps even respected in some cases for having overcome great odds to rise to their positions of influence. But those whose character matches their abilities is insufficient for the organization at best, especially in light of the disproportionate ratio of bullies, outlaws, felons, and cons that make up the general population of professional sports practitioners compared to the rest of society. Respect should be earned, not thrown away on knuckle dragging thugs, like pearls before swine.
...FAILS THE MAJORITY OF ITS MONEYMAKERS
My husband says many of these guys though, just take the money to get out of the projects, and better their lives and the lives of their families and those close to them. Which is an understandable perspective, considering a rather significant portion of professional American athletes are African American, or other people of color, who in this country today are still generally economically depressed compared to the white majority. A 2013 NCAA report concluded that 86% of student athletes live in abject poverty. That’s why Minion says for most of these guys, most of the time, the first thing you see them doing with that initial big check is to buy their Mama a house.
I appreciate professional sports for being be an avenue for disadvantaged students to gain a chance at scholarships, and to escape a life of being downtrodden and oppressed. But we are not preparing young men plucked out of that life for the challenges and trials of fame. We just throw obscene amounts of money at them, as if their existence, while useful for a while, is an inconvenient problem that can be whitewashed away with an appropriately soothing application of cash.
For the most part, “we the people” don’t care anything about bettering the lives of the underprivileged, other than to spout aphorisms of bootstraps and perpetuate the self-made myth. That is, until we discover they can entertain us, like trained monkeys in the zoo of our chosen arena. Then suddenly, some Daddy Warbucks has everything they’ll ever need or want... all they have to do is sign their lives away on the dotted line.
Thanks to the affiliation of professional sports culture with the breeding ground of the college sports ring, the entirety of the university experience has morphed from a focus on the academic education that will prepare our young people to become functional, contributing members to society, to how well this jock carries or that one throws. These collegiate incubators effectively reduce those kids with any shot at the pros into semi-sentient meat bags, little more than draft livestock, with about as much say in their options. Don’t misunderstand me, I doubt there are too many stories of picks snapped up in the draft lamenting their results, but, still, in some respects, it’s just a different kind of auction block, at an enormous expense rate, complete with a lavish lifestyle for those who have been “bought and paid for.”
For some — those who have the will and acuity to push past the distractions of a burdensome training / practice / game / work schedule to actually get something out of their scholastic exercises, there might be the possibility they could do something productive with their lives after their bodies have given up and the money has run out. Maybe they’ll have made the right choices in wealth management or financial investments, or not lived so extravagantly they can’t sustain their lifestyle once their career is over, which for most will be mid-late 30s at the latest. At that point, if they haven’t properly planned ahead, their futures could easily be all about living in the past, reminiscing stats. Unless they’ve achieved boss level status the likes of Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, or Shaquille O’Neal, only the freakishly hard core of their fans will even remember them once they’re no longer in the limelight.
But at least you have your health!
Yeah. For the better part of 10 – 20 years, the racket of sideline docs brazen enough to call themselves “healthcare” professionals practicing “sports medicine” will get away with doing merely whatever bare minimum it takes to get players back out onto the field, regardless of how it otherwise impacts their long-term physical well-being. They are patched up with rubberbands and bubble gum, smacked on the fanny, and told to go play. For everything after that, they’re on their own.
We snatch these kids out of a cesspool from which they’re made to believe they’ll never amount to anything, and drop them into a world of glitz and glam, where they’re revered as idols. It’s shouldn’t be any surprise when the results are about as successful as when an everyday joe schmoe wins the lottery, and then you find out later he was broke off his ass in less than ten years. Fame and money are powerful tools of influence, and when you fall into both suddenly, you might not know how to use them. They don’t teach that in school.
So after a while, they start to believe their own hype. They become wrapped up in their own legends. Because we ask them to. And then they *#<@%* it up.
When we see someone famous acting in a typically stupid way — as one would expect the stupidly famous to do — because they’re famous, or perhaps, ever better yet, rich and famous, not only do we forgive them for being stupid, but many will even go so far as to emulate their stupidity. And round and round and round we go, again, and again, and again, with the stupid example begetting the stupid mimics, until the student becomes the master, and passes the stupid baton to the next generation of fools. And so on, and so forth.
Now, obviously I’m not saying every athlete is an idiot or every kid who once lived an impoverished way of life is an imbecile. No, stupid pretty much crosses all boundaries. There’s no formula for what makes a person stupid. Except, in the long run, I think a total neglect by all of us as a culture to give any regard to personal betterment for an individual on a pedestal beyond a lifelong pinpoint focus on one specific athletic ability is detrimental to more than just that individual alone, and has far reaching consequences stretching out generations into the future. Because now they’re out there in everyone’s face, waving their stupid flag loud and proud. It’s hard to justify being okay with the millions of dollars paid to some people after watching news clips with some bruh who’s clearly been hit in the head one too many times, and now struggles to string together a coherent sentence.
If we’re not more careful with our cultural acceptance of rampant stupidity, before long, stupid people will be voted into the highest offices of the land, and we’ll all be lead by ignorant... Yeah, I guess I see your point. I suppose that ship really has sailed, hasn’t it?
We ooh and aw over anyone with ability and money simply because they have ability and money, regardless of how they came by it, or how they use it. It’s a vicious cycle, it’s a failed system, and it has got to stop.
...ADVOCATES REGRESSIVE VALUES
On a continued basis, with no end in sight, professional sports promoters publicly endorse primitive sexist, racist, ageist and ableist dogma, without apology or remorse. That’s just good business. After all, it’s what the public wants, right? It’s in every sports-related commercial you see, every broadcast you hear, the talk in the locker room, and even around the water cooler. Sometimes it’s subtle, other times, not so much. Sometimes it’s in what’s spoken directly, other times it’s in what’s not being said.
The ultra-machismo of announcers and program hosts. The overtly sexual, fawning, eagerly excited commercial models who never have any lines. The commonly held socially accepted presumption that would have you believe a man’s masculinity can be measured by his athletic prowess. The king of his castle with all of his pals, enslaved to the big screen TV, shutting out the woman of the house, whose only role in the spot is to warm up his snacks and bring his buddies beer, with a 1950s toothy sally happy homemaker smile.
Wait — what century is it, again?
Don’t get me wrong, as a feminist, I’m all about female empowerment, in whatever form it takes, so if it enriches the lives of sideline dancers who opt for that career track to show their support for their team in sexualized outfits with their own great feats of athleticism (Yes, of course it takes incredible strength to be a professional cheerleader — show me the armchair quarterback who could pull off just *one* of those high kicks or even the simplest of their complex acrobatics displays!), then I wish them well, and hope the lucrative income stream earned from this form of undeniable degradation, objectification and exploitation is merely a stepping stone on the path to their next great opportunity, whatever it may be, where they are treated with basic human dignity and respect.
When a competent quarterback, recognizing his position of influence, made productive use of his public platform to inspire others as he exercised his patriotic right and civic duty of demonstrating a peaceful protest by refusing to stand for the anthem of a country whose broken promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all flies harshly untrue in the face of people of color who are regularly denied these rights, he was blackballed by the organization that had attempted to levy a forced response from all teams for the sake of satisfying the company’s business connections with big government in the first place. Three years later, despite winning an undisclosed settlement with the promise of potential offers being made available to satisfy his collusion suit, this capable, competitive player has yet to be signed, mostly because no one wants his “politics” (which are in fact nothing more than a direct result of his response to their politics) to affect their team or their bottom line.
And, a sports gear manufacturer chose to capitalize on his decision to stand for something, even though it cost him everything... cause there’s nothing quite like making a hefty profit off a righteous crusade to call attention to injustice. To this day, players are required to stand for this enforced publicity stunt of the propaganda machine. Which, by the way, is not only unconstitutional, but also illegal. Money talks, though, and the NFL can afford to buy a lot of lobbyists. That, and, well, you know... we’ve pretty much thrown the rule of law out the window, dragged it into the back ally, beat it with billy clubs, and buried it in the river. But hey, tell me another one about how making tons of money gives you lots of choices, and they should all just suck it up and be grateful.
Over the last few years, everyone has had their strong and loud opinions about this situation. No one could escape it. I once heard a sports radio DJ in a rage expressing indignation that anyone would *$#!&* all over this solemn tradition.* (*Fact check: while the playing of the national anthem before games has been a long standing practice dating back to the mid-40s, players were never on the field before 2015, when the US Department of Defense gave a buyout of $6.8M to the NFL for what they referred to as “paid patriotism.”) His big beef was that he’d lost his father earlier that year, with whom he’d seen many games, and how dare these disrespectful *@$$#%7=$* mess with people’s childhood memories.
Right. How rude of them, to consider the struggle just for survival of an entire oppressed people to be a higher priority than your wistfully nostalgic impressions of your past with your Dad. No really, how dare they?
What about all the kids with Black fathers murdered by cops, who now have to grow up without getting to make any of those special memories? What about Philando Castile, who was shot down in front of his 4-year-old daughter, only 74 seconds after being pulled over, less than two miles from where I share a home with my Black husband and our mixed-race child? Where’s the outrage for messing with that little girl’s memories of her father, and her visions of his death in her nightmares for the rest of her life? Are this DJ’s memories that much more important than those people’s lives, that everyone else should just shut up about all of this, and go back to watching the game with their heads down, so as not to disturb the other fans?
You know, just so we’re all clear on the rules, and all.
But maybe the worst unspoken code is the proliferation of the notion that “might makes right.” As if any disagreement we may have between us can be solved by whomever hits the hardest to bring down his opponent. Haven’t we as a people reached our fill of that overblown testosterone-heavy *8@77$#!&* yet? Isn’t it enough that our resident tangerine dreamer hovers his itchy twitter thumbs torn between sending love letters to or picking fights with the biggest nuclear bullies on the block? When will cooler heads finally prevail?
...PROMOTES ARBITRARY ALLEGIANCES, SHEEPLE MENTALITY, TRIBALISM, AND DIVISION-BASED AGGRESSION
This country is in dark times right now. We are deeply divided across party lines, over issues of social classes, and about matters of racial discrimination, cultural differences, gender bias, biological identity, sexual orientation, religious and political abuses of power, and denial of scientific fact, just to name a few. There is a war on truth being waged right now, and if truth doesn’t win, then everyone loses. EVERY. ONE. Do we really need to go piling on top of that additional levels of an “us vs. them” mindset in relation to some manufactured false dichotomy designed entirely for no other purpose than to rake in monumental proceeds for unscrupulous profiteers of a shameless industry?
...OFFERS NO INTRINSIC VALUE TO HUMANITY
A famous brilliant author shares a story about imposter syndrome. In a gathering of elite artists, writers, scientists, discoverers, and others who had established themselves as great in their respective fields, he felt out of place, wondering how he ever came to be counted among these giants. While there, he connected with a polite elderly gentleman bearing the same first name, who came from a military background and felt similarly, unable to understand how his achievements landed him in the presence of such skilled creators, as he had only done what was asked of him. The writer was Neil Gaiman. The vet was Neil Armstrong.
The fact that even those who’ve given inestimable lasting accomplishments benefitting the history of our civilization still second guess their value to the human race, in some respects speaks to the inherent insecurities of people in general. But then, on the other hand, it also leads us to scratching our heads at wondering how so many who truly have spent a lifetime doing nothing worthwhile still walk around with their noses in the clouds as if the world owes them a living. Professional sports stars are particularly guilty of this grievance, likely in great part due to how they’re given the impression between their over excessive compensation and our over excessive veneration that they somehow deserve it.
Newflash, sports dudes: YOU. PLAY. A. GAME.
It’s just a game. It’s not rocket science. It’s not brain surgery. In the grand scheme of things, it won’t even make any difference to anyone.* As Joey Tribbiani describes, it’s a “moo” point — like a cow’s opinion, it just doesn’t matter.
*For the most part. With a handful exceptions.
If you’re Jesse Owens, making larger than life strides that give a middle finger salute to white supremacy at the Olympics of Nazi Germany, you’re speaking for the world. If you’re Jackie Robinson, setting the stage for the emergence of a civil rights movement, you’re opening the door to a better future. If you’re 11 black college kids from Texas against Adolf’s Kentucky white boys, you’re drawing a line that will not be crossed. If you’re Tommie Smith and John Carlos, bowing your head and raising your fist against centuries of injustice for your Olympic medal theme, you’re calling attention to a voice that must be heard.
If you’re Billie Jean King, wiping the floor with your opponent in the Battle of the Sexes, you’re striking a resounding blow for gender equality everywhere, and generations of feminists to come. If you’re Gertrude Ederle or Kathrine Switzer or Danica Patrick, making your way onto the track to swim or run or ride with the big boys, you’re paving the path for women to follow. But so rare is the anomaly for a sporting event to have any significant bearing on a greater scale that these cases stand out as few and far between, and their numbers are dismally represented throughout the history of professional sports, especially when stretched across decades of recorded game play.
It’s also true that plenty of sports stars have certainly used their affluence and influence to positively impact the world around them. A number of charitable organizations making a gigantic difference for their specific causes have been created by professional athletes, and in each case, the world is better because of them, especially for those directly benefitting from the needs being met by these foundations. This is a good example of how to do the right thing with what you’ve been given.
Let’s not forget how they got to that point in the first place, though. Professional athletes are paid millions to be in peak physical condition, to push through the pain, to perform otherwise nearly impossible feats of athleticism. Sure, they’re the best. You would be too, if that’s all you’d focused on your whole life, and were then given an 8-figure salary to keep it up as long as you’re capable. Of course they can run laps around amateurs. But so what? This is their job. This is all they do. How is that even impressive???
When a single mother runs a 6-minute mile while balancing a full time job and caring for children because she wants to keep herself in shape for the sake of her family, that’s impressive. When a middle aged middle class sedentary worker goes from carrying 65 extra pounds to a BMI of 23 to combat the history of diabetes and heart failure in his genetic lineage so the promise he made to his bride til death do us part will see them together into their senior years, that’s impressive.
Just because people might worship you for what you can do, that doesn’t make you a saint.
Sure, you can entertain the ignorant masses, but what have you actually done for them? On the Maslow’s scale, public viewing of professional sports doesn’t even make it out of the basest rung of needs. It’s about as useful as masturbation. It might feel amazing for a moment, but when it’s all over, you’ve got nothing to show for it, and even the memories are fleeting.
Let’s put this in perspective. Sports stars are effectively actors, paid to perform. Trained monkeys dancing for strangers they’ll never even know. But even actors create something lasting and permanent.
As a part-time filmmaker and an avid movie buff myself, I confess there’ve been plenty of sports themed flicks that have found a special place in my heart. Most of the Rocky franchise, for example. The Karate Kid. The Blind Side. Radio. Remember the Titans. A League of Their Own. Field of Dreams. Secretariat.
The thing is, though, while these are a form of entertainment associated with sports, it wasn’t the sports that drew me in. It was the human element, related to the people centered around the sports that captured my attention. As a storyteller, I’m interested in tales of genuine humanity that have the power to teach something worthwhile, something that has the potential to make the patron better for having had the experience.
And, there was a tangible outcome for the people involved in creating these works. From the performances of the actors, to the writer’s script, to the producer’s project, something remains. There now exists in the world an artistic creation that can be passed on, that can be watched again, with something new to be gained with each reviewing.
Professional sports culture offers none of that. Sports produces nothing. Creates nothing. Teaches nothing. No, not even good sportsmanship... have you seen the temper tantrums of these primadonnas?
There is nothing to be gained from any association with professional sports culture. This is because the intensity of idolatry sheeple maintain for throwing in with mob hysteria runs counterintuitive to a mindset reserved for valuing higher learning and independent thought, which are exactly the key ingredients needed to bring anything of lasting value to the social collective. Professional athletes are leeches of our culture’s fanatical obsession, and nothing more.
Doctors are well paid and live comfortably because they save lives, and we recognize their value. Legal representatives are well paid and live comfortably because they help us maintain justice, and we recognize their value. Architects, engineers, and general contractors are well paid and live comfortably because they build our civilization, and we recognize their value.
I would have no problem with sports stars being paid at this level or beyond because of their incredible gifts, but what they offer in return for their compensation does not compare to the imposition of wealth redistribution required to support their way of life. When we start paying scientists and artists and teachers whose legacy will far outlive their own ability to continue working as well as the upper echelon of our society, and sports stars more in line with their actually usefulness, then we might be on the road to appropriately balancing the scales in the right direction.
...EMPOWERS THE TRANSFORMATION OF OTHERWISE ORDINARY PEOPLE INTO RAVING LUNATICS
What is it about this particular national pastime that makes people feel they have permission to childishly resort to behavior not even considered appropriate for the schoolyard playground? Did I somehow miss a memo about this unspoken social agreement when I was a kid? Or is this merely the inevitable result of the dubious marketing hustle that forever married the consumption of alcohol to the diversion of the professional sports experience? Because you know, booze makes such natural bedfellows with amped up testosterone, heightened adrenaline, arrogance, overconfidence, toxic masculinity, a sense of invincibility, and a jingoistic attitude... what could possibly go wrong?
Gambling. Looting. Vandalism. Brawling. Rioting. Arson. Random Violence.
And there are still people who worry about the effect of video games???
In Buffalo, tailgating fans have gained notoriety for a peculiar pre-game practice of “table-slamming,” or grabbing one another and throwing each other into tables so violently as to break the tables with their bodies. These same fans also regularly toss vibrating self-pleasure devices (yes, *those*) onto the field whenever the Patriots play on the Bills’ home turf. (Usually in the general vicinity of Tom Brady.)
A rabid Philadelphia once fan punched the horse of a mounted police officer, then had the audacity to sue the Eagles team over the incident. Worse than that, he apparently set off a trend across the country of copycat horse-punchers. During one particular December game, Eagles fans also pelted a halftime Santa Clause with more than 100 snowballs, some containing rocks. MERRY *#<@%!?&* CHRISTMAS, *@$$#%7=$* — HO, HO, HO!
During a contract project with the University of MN in my mid 20s, one of the more unusual odd jobs I was tasked to perform was to write a radio press release about a fundraising effort to collect reimbursement for a young student who’d had the misfortunate of working her part-time job at a fast food joint on campus when the Golden Gophers won the NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship. In the course of the celebratory rioting, the poor gal’s car, dormant in the parking lot while she served sandwiches to patrons, was capsized and lit on fire. This is apparently such a common practice at the U that there have been multiple incidents of “hockey rioting,” over the years, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether they win or lose, as either situation incites an excuse to pick a fight with everyone on a rowdy weekend night. There are apparently no fans nearly as violent as hockey fans.
Even my own sweet, loving, 76-yr-old mother to 5 of us, granny of 10, an elder’s wife in the church, red-faced, puffy veined, and remarkably evocative of a yodeling chicken, squeals bloody murder at the top of her lungs, while shrieking, “Git him!! GIT HIM!!!!” when she needs someone on our team to stop a runner before he makes it all the way downfield. Sure, it’s all in the heat of the moment, but it can be incredibly alarming if you don’t know to expect it. I’m tempted to suggest along with her signature southern boiled peanuts, she offers visiting guests earplugs in advance, just in case the game might get exciting.
And a little closer to home, coming up on nearly two years ago now, at the final play of a division playoff game on our home field, we witnessed an historic event so momentous it was given its own unique title, sparked a wiki page, and prompted a change in league rules. There had been a lot of promise leading up to this game that it might usher the Vikings to their 5th shot at a ring (it didn’t, of course... unsurprisingly, in true Vikings fashion, they choked on the very next game, naturally), but while it had been a compelling spectacle to watch, it wasn’t going in our favor, and my husband had all but given up, until those final few seconds, when we experienced the Minneapolis Miracle.
My mild mannered husband freaked out and bolted up so violently, yelling obscenities at the large screen TV so loudly with such giant erratic motion in the compact 8 x 8 space of our toddler’s play area that he startled me right out of my skin, while frightening our then infant son so terribly the poor little guy began crying hysterically. I had to scream at him, “YOU’RE SCARING THE BABY!!!” to make him sit down and return to some semblance of the normal human I married.
My Minion. My gentle, docile, kind and tender, exceptionally intellectual, naturally cerebral, normally rational, incredibly domestic life partner. A man who doesn’t even usually swear, who apologizes when he laughs too loud. This is the behavior professional sports culture provoked him to. WHEN THEY WON.
So what else is there to do? If this epidemic madness can even infect even the meek, who among us can ever hope to be safe? And where do we go from here?
If you are at all a student of history, you may recall most of the grand scale rioting in ancient Rome came about as a result of contentions over the outcome of sporting events in the Colosseum. So maybe, the more things change, the more they stay the same. A frightening prospect when you also consider a psychological look at anthropologic mass-movements throughout history has taught us that the addictive neurochemical reward offered by public viewing of spectator sport has repeatedly contributed to the downfall of civilizations.
Meaning, perhaps professional sports culture doesn’t bring out the worst in humanity. Maybe it just accurately reflects how truly terrible we really are. But hopefully, some day, we will advance enough as a people to finally outgrow it. For the sake of future generations, I certainly hope so.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 7 - Topic: FECKLESS
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