The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Friday, May 29, 2009

More on What Are Sports For?

Two days ago I answered Jeff MacGregor's question What are sports for? In the meantime, I discussed the topic with my brother. No stranger he to deep thinking.

He identified three basic things: tribalism, drama, and transcendence.

Tribalism is very connected to team sports, and explains why the USA, among the most individualistic societies on earth, prefers them over individual sports. It's why the Olympics are the most meaningful of track competitions--the national team thing means something to the more casual observer--and I think track & field ignores this at its own peril.

Tribalism is also the single biggest reason sports fans will turn a blind eye towards doping. It's OK if our guys are doing it, they're just keeping up with the competition. And then there's the issue of simple blind loyalty, which I noted a couple of years ago:
...a friend who is an Indians fan was very defensive about Albert Belle when he played for Cleveland, but once he left the team she said "Thank God I don't have to be an apologist for that jackass anymore". (One can glean a deep understanding of political attitudes amongst ordinary Americans by observing this type of behavior; in this perspective, Fox News finally makes sense.) Bonds is so distasteful a character that quite a few Giants fans still won't stick up for him.
USATF (or TAC, as it was known back then) did cover up doping and aid the USOC in doing so back in the 1980s because otherwise our athletes were at a competitive disadvantage against the Communists.

Drama is that stuff that Jim McKay talked about at the beginning of Wild, Wild World of Sports: "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition". Doping can cheapen this, but only somewhat. If you only look at sports as theater, then the main difference between the Boston Marathon and WWE is whether or not the outcome is unknown. And you have to admit, pro wrestling is capable of some mighty fine working-class kabuki theater. Yet few of us would call it real sports.

It's in transcendence that doping is the most damaging. All of us can recall amazing sports happenings, be they by the greatest professionals or commonplace high schoolers, that would be cheapened if they were something less than ordinary human beings doing extraordinary things. They are heroes because their superpowers were not stolen, but granted by their maker and/or earned by blood, sweat and tears.

No comments: