Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bread and Circuses: Why Sports Suck (Part 1)

In the Name of God, Stop [Sports]!
Originally written June 28, 2009.

Legend tells us, perhaps apocryphally, of an early fifth century Christian named Tetramachus. Upon viewing the horrors of the Coliseum, he began shouting to the crowds and the emperor, “In the Name of God, stop!” Tetramachus, in a sanctuary stained with the blood of Christians, slaves and wild beasts, was killed that day in 404 A.D.

A friend spurned me to pen my thoughts on athletics. (See here: http://theologicalnaturalist.blogspot.com/2009/06/sports-tribalism.html) Calling himself a Theological Naturalist, he writes on sports tribalism. As far as I read him, he wants to treat sports tribalism as a relatively innocuous thing. In discussing the matter with him personally, he has also praised the virtues that accompanies sports while at their best; e.g., discipline, cooperation, sacrifice. Let me say I admire what athletes do and what they forfeit to accomplish them.

While on the subject of sports tribalism, let me focus on my friend’s blog post. He correctly demonstrates that sports inhabits the communal sphere and fosters community. Quite healthy to the human spirit is being involved something bigger than the self. Our word ‘integral’ is related to the word ‘integer.’ An integer is a whole number; thus, to be integrated is to be “part of a whole.” Since the eating of the apple, the sexes have sought to be reconciled; likewise, man has desperately chased fraternal harmony since Cain. Solidarity is the snipe hunt of the soul.

The Theological Naturalist writes that a sport’s rivalry is “a battle for pride, spirit, and stronger identity.” And I pose this question to the reader: Pride in what? Spirit in what? Identity in what? Striking is adherents almost cult-like devotion (the word “fan” comes from the word “fancy,” the way English men may fancy an attractive young woman. It does not come from the word fanatic, meaning an insane person, but it carries a similar connotation: a person who loves an object and is insanely devoted to it.) I’m four paragraphs in and I’m describing feelings for what could easily described, instead of “football” or “baseball,” ball worship.

Comedian and social commentator Bill Maher echoes my sentiments on the subject: “men in America are living lives of quiet desperation…anesthetizing themselves with sports and pornography.” Going back to the Cain/Abel mythos, in our modern society pornography is our sex-ersatz. But what is sports then? I would argue it’s our war substitute. The thumb has determined winners and losers with the discovery of the big stick, in the coliseum, and now demonstrates our sense of oneness with our favorite player. Of course, we use a different finger to gently remind our opponents our feelings towards them.

The question comes down to whether athletic events are an outlet for our primal instincts or, which I put forth to the reader’s consideration, if it continues to foster our oblongotal rages. The aforementioned blog post considers the sports rituals and atheletic ceremonialism mostly harmless. At it’s most superficial, the jerseys and jeering and jocularity all seem a-virulent. Yet, what if this feeds into our baser natures, a venom in the collective bloodstream of society and history? What if these are communal buttresses for the psychic structuralism inside us all? And what if these are just the accompanying shadows of truly darker impulses like racism and bigotry?

That is what is most greatly at stake: the virtue of a people. I will leave this as the heaviest part to weigh on the souls of sports acolytes. To steal from my master, you may feel I have cast a spell on you. But remember your fairy tales: there are spells to disenchant as well as to enchant. You have been told a story since you first began your education of the glories of sports, for there are old men who wish to visit upon you their dreams of victory and glory, and they lavish their riches upon those willing to succumb themselves to the rigors and pains of athletic training. Caveat emptor, for many a bone broken and many scars earned for the entertainment of spectators.

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