Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Because He's A Good Guy At Sports

This post rather than being about sports, is about people who dislike sports, it is about you the person whom upon reading this sentence decides not to read this post under the presumption that it is about sports and there is nothing less you want to read about in the world but sports.

Because chances are once or twice or perhaps even semi-frequently you have been surprised at just who is into sports.


And each of these surprising interpersonal transactions was an opportunity to say to yourself 'perhaps there is something more to sports than I assumed.' and thus discover that there is indeed more to sports than one assumes. Perhaps.

Perhaps not.

For me it was watching Seinfeld as a child in the 90's, there's an episode where Jerry asks Peterman, Elaine's boss 'So do you like sports?' and later excuses himself from the dinner leaving George behind. Later it cuts to Jerry sitting on his couch eating a bowl of cereal and the TV announces 'don't you just love sports' and Jerry does a triumphant fist pump in the air.

For me, that was when I was like 'wait an unathletic comedian loves sports?' I had assumed that comedians liked world events, news and shit.

I would point out that I liked sports at the time, just not team sports, or sports that involved coordination. I was a runner. But that episode really opened up for me, the world of sport was one anybody could live in.

And I think about sports a lot, when not thinking about loved ones, I generally think about the NBA. The NBA is like the Tardis to me, it is a world, a universe that despite being contained entirely within our world our universe seems somehow larger on the inside. A world and universe of its own, as rich and complex and that somehow through observing it, it can unlock the secrets to my own existence, my own world.

To you this may sound like complete and utter bullshit. The stereotype persists that sport is for moronic neandertals, and yet, I am willing to bet money that if you subscribe to this belief, you will still come across philosophy professors at MIT that surprise you about being more concerned about the NBA playoffs, or World Series, or Super Bowl than they are with the latest publication on moral reasoning (or whatever the fuck it is philosophers think about when not thinking about sports).

I could at length go on about how wonderful and magical the NBA is. But I sense intuitively this is the wrong tack to take.

Instead some observations:

1. Sport is incredibly complex, it possesses so many variables that it is a collossal intellectual undertaking for those who would do it professionally. I am not talking about the collossal intellect of players of which the exceptions are many, but of coaches and management whom better reflect the sport fanatic fanbase than the athletes themselves do. You will never see two live sporting matches the same, due to the element of competition. Nobody. Nobody can anticipate what will happen on the field/court and yet, anticipation has its rewards and one endeavors for the holy grail of control. Sport thus, is more reliably improvisational than Jazz, although it offers the full spectrum between 'greatest-moments-of-your-life' type executions to the boring games where one team is simply and thoroughly outclassed.

2. The world of professional sports is one where virtually no progress has been made at bridging the gender divide. The gender composition of boardrooms has tipped more in favor of equality than the gender division in professional sports. The Grand Slam circuit is probably the only place where women occupy equal footing to men in terms of public adoration. Team sports are all still a man's world. And this is perhaps an oft overlooked by the lay person source of much male privelege. Women's role models in terms of newstand space (and tumblr content) now more or less literally models, and then musicians, a field dominated by pop, and pop remaining an industry where a model + autotune will trump a girl with nothing to trade on but raw musical talent.

3. Following on, sport is in some way a substitute for war. Many sports fanatacs mouth cliches like 'sport is my religion' etc. but cliches tend to exist for a reason. If an athiest were to attend church services, it would be the sporting stadium. Life frustrates us with it's meaninglessness, sport educates us that we can define the meaning of our own existence. Sport cannot truly be enjoyed until you take a risk on it, get yourself emotionally invested (I have also heard getting financially invested also helps), but where once I would have dismissed sport arbitrarily on its meaninglessness (a guy hitting a ball so he can run up and down a length of grass without having that ball knock over a set of sticks, five guys running up and down a wooden floor trying to put a rubber ball through an elevated basket, a bunch of guys trying to scoop up and kick a ball down a field to try and place it between two big sticks etc.) I would now say it is its most redeaming feature. You can wage something as powerful as war over something as meaningless as trophies, medallions and rings. People are brought to tears over this stuff, achieve despair over this stuff, have the best sex of their lives over this stuff. Sport is powerful if you possess the imagination and feeling.

4. The 'warfare' waged, the conflict and improvisation are rich metaphor for existing in a world where resources are scarce. There is so much to be learned and adapted by watching the microcosm of sport that if it remains male dominated, not just in players but in its fanbase, then so too shall the world. Greek Antiquity had the olympics, the Roman Empire had the collosseum and circus, the Monghols had their hunting, the Japanese had sumo, archery and the martial arts. Nietzsche wrote in The Genealogy of Morals his sweeping observation that there were two broad moral codes observed in the world. Those in charge generally had a 'warrior code' of ethics that extolled virtues like courage, loyalty, honesty... the glorious lion was the ideal. And then he had the losers codes, the ethics that arise from oppression - I don't still have the books but he described it as extolling everything contrary to the oppressor as a virtue - we are the lamb and the lion is our oppressor. Therefore everything lamb like is good and everything lion like evil.
From what I have observed in life, this code I would more likely describe as victim mentality, things happen to you. It isn't your fault it is your oppressors. And there are certainly times when we are victims of shit that is beyond our control, but shit beyond our control is not worth worrying about by definition. Sport I feel conveys this earlier set of morals that teach personal accountability, choice and responsibility, risk taking.

5. Sport contrary to popular belief, if closely observed teaches you that winning isn't everything. This weekend I watched the first TV I have watched in months and it was the story of the 1998 Denver Broncos repeat championship. As told by three of the players on that team. You realise watching their story what most sportsfans know, no sport ever avoids being a mindgame. They described the 1998 superbowl as the worst game you could play, if you won you did what everybody expected of you, if you lost you were tragic failures. They described winning the 1998 superbowl as pure exhaustion, but the 1997 superbowl as jubilation. Furthermore, I have watched some of the 'best teams' in history simply outclass the competition and win by large margins. These generally make for low points in their respective games. While you admire how well oiled the machine can become, and the onus is on the competition to lift their game to the new world standard, what fans and athletes alike always seek is a contest. A hard fought win is worth something, a one sided win is borderline meaningless.
Champions seek out champions, people want to be tested, want to be pushed. High performers are motivated by the presence of high performers, stars want other stars on their team and they look forward to the games where they face other stars. People in sports and out generally just want to reach higher and higher peaks of their own capability, want to be tested. Those who dominate crave nothing more in life than to be dominated, outmatched and outclassed on the highest level they can achieve.

6. The athleticism is spectacular, it is a kind of random dance. Not all sports are equal, for me it is the NBA for most it is soccer, but there will be a sport just for you.

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