OK, it’s once again March, and once again I find my favorite television news programs preempted by the college basketball games of “March Madness.” Personally, I find madness to be the most appropriate of titles for the way in which Americans are gripped by the infatuation with sports. I admit it—I simply don’t see, nor do I understand our collective obsession with using balls to score points between 2 opposing teams of hyper-masculine jocks. I’m probably one of 5 or 6 males in this country who doesn't get it.
It’s not enough for us to be politically and ideologically polarized as a country; we further divide ourselves by way of our individual devotions to our favorite sports teams. We play hooky from both school and our jobs in order to see our favorite teams engage in sometimes brutal, if not base competition in order to see who can gain the most points. We even become offended whenever someone slights our favorite team. I recall a moment some time ago when I made the mistake of telling a friend’s girlfriend that the Midwest-based football she cherished was overrated; she nearly bit my head off. I assumed that by her overreactions that she had some sort of financial stake in the team (and no, it wasn't the Packers that I insulted). That particular episode made me conclude that the only reason why women are just as infatuated as men with sports is because they know that nothing they can do can entice a man like the allure of competitive sports, so they bandwagon this insane obsession to see appear “normal.”
I can understand the idea of passion and being dedication to a favorite team—after all, I’m a former Cubs fans (hey, even losers get tired of losing). But as a nation, we've convinced ourselves that there are no boundaries separating fans from fanatics when it comes to sports. I’m not advocating the eradication of sports as a distraction, but it demands a time for reflection when over-obsessive fans begin making death threats over blown calls, riot when their favorite team wins (or losses), or when more people can quote the stats of their favorite players and/or teams than name the first 4 people in the line of succession for the leadership of our country. I do think we take professional sports too seriously in this country. And the sad thing about it all is that while we can cite the empiricism of statistics and observable performance when it comes to assessing who the best players or who the teams are, we invoke unproven personal beliefs, religious dogma, and/or narrow ideologies when it comes to our understanding of politics, religion, and economics. What should be issues of priorities in our daily lives have become distractions, and the distractions of sports have become our priorities.
Many of us worship sport in America to the extent that it should be given First Amendment religious protections. What’s worse is that we while we equate professional (and college-level) sports to the level of divine activity, we elevate our favorite teams to the level of a divine pantheon, and we worship sports players as near deities. We overlook their bad decisions, we excuse their sense of entitlement and arrogance as natural by-products of having earned it through hard work, and we give them a pass when they engage in criminal activity. We supplement their inflated salaries by buying whatever they endorse, their inflated wallets by waiting in long lines to buy the over-priced shoes they attach to the latest footwear, and over-inflate their already inflated egos—as if such a thing were possible—by allowing our kids to emulate them without any caveats or parental interjections of reasoned reality checks.
And speaking of kids, what lessons and mixed messages do our adult obsessions with sports impart upon them? In the past generation, we’ve come to teach kids that “everybody’s a winner” by acknowledging that even those who simply do not try hard can receive a trophy, “a certificate of participation,” or some kind of undeserved accolade. In many other cases, we have removed many competitive activities like dodge ball from our school physical education curriculums because we feel that children might be somehow emotionally scarred from actually losing to a better-prepared opponent. We now don’t even keep score in games between kids to keep those who aren’t up the task of playing harder from “feeling bad.” But as adults, we quickly grow out of that New Age social-psychobabble and clearly define winners and loser in the games we (watch others) play! We not only keep mental track of our favorite teams’ scoring, but their player stats as well. We grudgingly buy and complain when we have to purchase —if we do—school supplies for our children, but have no problem feely supporting the oftentimes extravagant, party-hard lifestyles of athletes by buying whatever subpar or average product they endorse. We deny our kids the lessons of good sportsmanship, insights into their abilities, and opportunities for growth. At the same, we’re willing time chalk up bad sportsmanship in adult athletes to being bad boys,” are willing to be armchair coaches providing “analysis” of where their favorite athletes screwed up in their last performance, and cheer them on as they recover from injuries. We brainwash our kids, but love and worship our adult athletes.
Why do we obsess over sports so much in this country? I simply don’t get it. I don’t understand why we’re content with the reality of you and I being locked away somewhere between hell and Xanadu for offenses that many professional athletes receive the equivalent for a slap on the wrist for. I don’t get why many adults will stop whatever they are doing in order to rush home and watch some game on television the same way that I as a child would rush home to watch cartoons from school back in the 1970s. I can’t grasp why we overpay, over-praise, and hand over so much of our attention to sports and athletes.
While I do watch the occasional baseball game and enjoy the idea of competition, I’m not fanatical about it. I don’t riot, yell, or take it personally when a time I find myself rooting for loses. I don’t purposefully spend money on clothing with team logos or some athlete’s name written on a shoe; I’m sure they don’t need my dollars to put in an extra exotic fish in their custom-designed aquariums. I simply put things in perspective insofar as sports. An athlete is just another person doing his or her job. I don’t see anyone cheering me at my job as I type up paperwork…nor do I expect it (although it would be nice if apathetic parents would take such an interest in others trying to do their jobs, like teachers). Maybe if we our restructured our priorities and place as much emotional support, appreciation, adulation, and financial compensation to those who put up with our bratty kids (such as bus drivers, teachers, and others), then maybe our kids wouldn't grow up to be adults who worship sports and athletes who have come to rarely teach us nothing substantive in the way of social values.
See also: "Would YOU Pay $300 For LeBron's Shoes?"