04 May 2009

Why Sports Are No Longer Doing Civilization Any Favors


I haven't talked much about New York's two new baseball stadiums: the wholly unnecessary, costly one for the Yankees that resulted in the destruction of America's greatest ball park, and the wholly unnecessary, costly one for the Mets that has that name that I will never utter. This is not because I dislike them—though I do. Or because I think it's wrong the taxpayers should have had to front a single penny on either edifice—which I do. They could be beautiful stadiums that didn't cost the taxpayers a dime, and I'd still have no desire to write about them.

No, the reason is that I'm sick of sports.

No. Really. Sick of Sports. Professional Sports. They nauseate me.

In America's first few centuries, physical fitness was extolled as highly as mental fitness by the upper classes. Body and Mind: equally important, crowed the social aristocracy, a philosophy they carried over from the Ancient Greeks and the British. The rough-riding Teddy Roosevelt, the football-tossing Kennedys, the golfing, swimming Hepburn clan, all madly philosophical about the Life of the Body and how it primed the mind. Scratch an Ivy Leaguer, you'd find an amateur boxer, horseman, or tennis pro.

In the lower and working classes, meanwhile, if intellectual pursuits weren't always quite up to Harvard levels (partially due to a question of access), sports were equally prized as an element of life the improved one's character. One followed the local team, admired its players as physical and moral exemplars, and praised the principles of fair play, good sportsmanship and healthy competition.

That was then.

Of course, sports still dominates our culture. We've got two stupid new stadiums to prove it. Kids all over the city practice their moves in hopes of nabbing a big league deal. And sports still takes up on third of the nightly news, and large sections of our newspapers. It infiltrates the talk and televisions of two-thirds of our bars.

But...can it not, please? Can it all stop, please?

I merely ask: Do sports play any useful or healthy role in our culture anymore? It seems to me—in the wake of what seems like a decade or more of steroid scandals; of regular news accounts of players who get into the worst and most embarrassing of legal and criminal scrapes; regular outrages connected to the competitors in the Olympics and the Tour de France and other such once-respected competitions; and ongoing displays of greed on the parts of both players and team owners—that there is nothing left to admire or emulate in the careers and lives and behavior of sports figures, outside of wealth and fame (that is, if you admire that sort of thing). When we talk about the today's leaders in the fields of football, basketball and baseball, aren't we basically talking about a bunch of rich, self-pitying, liars and cheaters?

And of what worth are the accomplishments of cheaters in sports? Think of it: it's SPORTS, and they CHEAT. What could be worse? I don't revere the musical abilities of Milli Vanilli. I have no respect for the writing prowess of James Frey. And, along the same lines, the records of lying steroid-users like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds and A-Rod are as Zero to me. I wouldn't hire them to mow my lawn.

And yet, these are our idols. Every day, you hear people discuss last night's game, and the chances of this crew or that crew to emerge on top at the end of the season, with feverish interest—even though cheaters were very likely involved in that game or that crew, thus nullifying the meaning of the match's result, or anything they did on the field or court.

Moreover, sports metaphors dominate our language, as if they still had any objective value. And everywhere you look, people are dressing as if they just came from the playing field.

Regarding that sporting attire—perhaps as egregious as what sports has doing to our national morals is what it has inflicted on our style of dress. This is what we wear: shiny sports jerseys, baggy basketball shorts, sweat suits, athletic footwear, warm-up jackets, jogging suit, and—everywhere, everywhere, everywhere—baseball caps. Oh, how I've come to loathe baseball caps.

It's hideous, all of it. That stuff looks good on the field. It looks clownish on the street. Sports clothing is made loose to allow for freedom of movement while in competition. When loping slowly down the sidewalk, there's little need for a wide range of sudden physical gestures and pivots. So the clothes just hang on a person like large trash bags. And I'd say that 99% of the people wearing athletic shoes, with their unending variety of garish designs, are planning on doing any running anytime soon. The fashion of sports attire is the fashion of the sloven.

As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons people wear this stuff. One is comfort. Elastic bands are less binding than belts, loose open collars easier on the neck than a tie. It's hard to argue with comfort, except that one would like to think you draw a line somewhere. As it stands, comfort is so important to us that it seems we're importuning on a lot of people just by asking them to roll out of bed.

The other reason is status. The idea is, I should admire your choice in athletic attire. You're wearing a jersey from the Yankees, say. They have won the World Series from time to time. Their players are famous and well-paid and celebrated. Thus, I should confer the feelings I supposedly have for the Yankees on you, even though you have nothing to do with the team, apart from having bought their jersey. You associate yourself with champions. The world has been informed. Or so the thinking goes, I guess.

But do people really think that way? The Yankees are one of the most venerated teams in sports history. Yet, the club is as trashy as any of them. A-Rod, Clemens, Pettitte, Knobloch, many others, all steroid users. The former manager, Joe Torre, just wrote a book trash-talking most of them. As a result, I read the sports pages as if they were a work of fiction. It's a narrative of the antics of a bunch of con artists, scoundrels and tricksters. I don't count any Yankee victory a true victory. I don't count any professional sports victory a true victory. Because who knows if they played fairly? Nobody. They're taking everyone for a ride—the sports announcers, the sports writers and the fans. That's right: they're taking you for a ride. You're a sucker.

And that jersey that says the New York Yankees on the back? Why not wear won that say Enron, or AIG, or Madoff. I don't see much difference.

8 comments:

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The Soccer Source said...

With childhood obesity and the health issues that come with it (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.) at all-time highs (and rising), how can you really ask if sports still play a useful or healthy role in our culture? Get your head out of your arse, get off the couch and go for a jog. Or something. It does a body good.

Having said that I cannot support building publicly-funded stadiums under any circumstances, least of all if they destroy playgrounds and parks (in the case of the new Yankee Stadium). But extrapolating from that to question whether sports still have a healthy role in our society is completely unfounded.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Soccer Source: A good point. But two things in response. I'm talking about professional sports, not the kind practices in schools. Also, puzzle me this: childhood obesity is at an all-time high, and yet we revere sports figures more than ever before. See the disconnect? Obviously, emulation of sports figures is not having the most desired effect: a healthier, more fit citizenry.

amillionrevolutions said...

I'm not sure I follow. I've been reading this blog for awhile, and usually its fairly well reasoned. This just comes off as emotional; and off-putting.

A few comments. People have been wearing baseball caps outside the playing field for as long as they've been wearing them while playing. Of any sports apparel, its the most utilitarian, so I don't understand why singling them out is necessary.

Secondly, to jump onto the discussion from the last commenter, I definitely wound disagree that we revere athletes now more than ever. I think Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial, Tom Seaver were just as idolized if not more so than Jeter, Griffey, or the like. Its hard to judge definitively given the revolutions in media and journalism that have occurred, but I highly doubt your argument.

Also, as a lifelong fan of a small-market team, I can assure you, things aren't as bad as it seems on the back page of the New York Post. Most cities don't even have those sorts of sensational Tabloid/Newspapers. If you're tired of the Yankees, that's fine. Just take a break, start rooting for the Pirates or Royals for a couple of years, and see what happens. But don't muckrake against a sport that's done a lot more good than harm.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Amillionrevolutions: Thanks for the reasoned reply. Emotional? Yes, probably. that's the good thing about a blog. You can get emotional if you want, sometimes. Though I would argue that the average sports fan's relationship to their sport is 90 percent emotion and 10 percent reason. That's why, I think, it's so hard for us to face exactly what pro sports has become. And, I'm sorry, I just can't agree that sports does more good than harm any longer. Sports used to be one of the black-and-white touchstones of our lives. Now it's all gray area, and our confidence in what's right and wrong has been seriously eroded.

Kurt said...

Commenter "Air Force One Shoes," up top, is part of the problem -- planting his "genuine" boilerplate to pimp and protect athletic brands selling for ridiculous prices.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Indeed, Kurt.

ironrailsironweights said...

The health aspects of participating in vigorous sporting activities are largely meaningless, because actually participating in sports - as opposed to merely watching - is rapidly becoming a young person-only activity. Adult sports leagues are pretty thin on the ground, especially in the suburbs, while participation in such individual sports as tennis and running is on the decline. About the only adult sport that is showing strong growth is golf (or "cartball" as I call it) which also happens to provide minimal exercise value.

Peter