Written June 29, 2009.
“I see [men] coming into the stadium and they're all wearing the [football] jersey of their favorite player. They think they're so macho. Hey, you're wearing another man's shirt.” ~Bill Maher
Eleanor Roosevelt said “great minds discuss great ideas; Average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” To inject balance to my message, I contend that sports falls in the middle of this continuum. Sports are ideal for minds too great for celebrity gossip and too small for philosophical discourse. Perhaps this is why sports pervades so much workplace chatter: the intellectually endowed can perform a cognitive kenosis that makes them reachable to the unsophisticated. Few activities like the hunt and the enemy inspire conversational conjugation.
Examining this phenomenon, I taken by the bestowal of honor in athletics. So much conversation is spilled over who, when and why gets certain accolades and awards, perhaps the greatest being the admittance into the Hall of Fame. Honor, like sports itself, is a human construct and a microcosm of human interaction. Games limit the full scope of human endeavor by various restrictions. By operating within these parameters, analysts and spectators can appraise achievement in a constructive manner. Sports glory is a funny thing; athletes push their bodies to their limits, in large degree, just to be liked. The silver lining is this discourages sports being functionally masturbatory: athletes play for an audience.
What do we honor? This is my greatest point of criticism. We laud and lavish gold and girls on the strongest and most violent in football, and those who can powerfully swing a bat in baseball. One is destructive, the other inane. All of these activities exist in a zero sum game; there are only winners and losers (at least in manly sports played in America—no pansy-ass tying like in soccer.) Finally, all these things are showered upon those with talent and physicality in youth. Can this be any less of a perfect storm for the mis-education of a nation? In the flower of youth young men realize they can get the world, and then it is snatched away with the speed of an ace-serve when they become injured or outplayed. I cannot imagine a worse time to reward a man in his life.
Sports glory can only be held by few—and that with transience. Something rarely commented on is the almost blatant body-worship. Anna Kournikova didn't become famous for her talent on a tennis court. Lookism is rampant and unchecked. Beauty once permeating through girly magazines has now found its way onto the court, field and diamond.
We make much of Jackie Robinson, noting stats and life story, but how many of us have read Langston Hughes? Scientists, artists, even factory workers give things to the human race, things that others can use. They move worlds and change the course of history. Athletes play a game. Does anyone doubt that we honor athletes far too greatly?
This past year I spent time with a teacher whose son is in little league. He is a sports cynic and was turned off the sport when he found that coaches would encourage basemen to push base runners of the plate. It was defended because these boys need to learn that to survive you have to cheat when you can. Sporting events should curb, not bolster this narcissistic behavior. What happens when these boys become men with wives and jobs and, perish the thought, political clout? What kind of men are we making?