Monday, October 04, 2004

The Cultural Plague of Professional Sports

The Cultural Plague of Professional Sports
By Michael Goodspeed

The human body was designed for athletic endeavor. Surely, God understood that man would be slow to invent the automobile, so He placed our souls in these awesome machines capable of endurance, speed, agility, and explosiveness. We are meant to run, leap, swim, and kill furry creatures in the forest with stabbing devices carved from tree branches.

Physical activity is a necessary ingredient in any healthy life. Individuals who exercise regularly experience a marked increase in energy, mood, and vitality. Just look at Jack LaLanne. There is a 90-year old man who has not only lived long, but WELL. His mind is razor sharp, his step is spry, and his abs are as hard as your average washboard.

It is a shame that a large majority of Americans experience atheltics as a purely vicarious "activity." Depending on which study we should believe, 40-60% percent of all adults in the United States are completely sedentary, meaning they get no vigorous exercise whatsoever. Despite the media's obsession with diet, the sedentary lifestyle is the largest contributing factor in America's obesity epidemic.

Ironically, simultaneous to the explosion of overweight and heart disease in the U.S., the popularity of professional sports has continually increased, particularly among young males. Sports entertainment pervades every aspect of the popular culture. It is covered 24/7 on numerous cable networks and talk radio stations; it is a fixture of so-called television "news" casts (all of which feature regular sports "reporters"); and it is an endless source of "water-cooler" discussions in gyms and places of employment (again, mostly for men.)

As a red-blooded American male who has participated in athletics throughout his entire life, it causes me no shame to declare that I HATE professional sports. Perhaps I should re-phrase that: I hate the role that sports fanaticism has come to play in our culture. I hate the slew of mind-numbing talk shows, newspaper columns, and magazines devoted to in-depth sports "analysis." I hate the fact that professional athletes are paid ridiculous sums of money to play games that a lot of us play for FUN. And more than anything, I hate living in a country where tens of millions of people ascribe a significance to the outcome of sporting events that borders on lunacy.

Don't misunderstand. I find few things more beautiful than the sight of finely-tuned physical specimens performing astonishing feats of athleticism and fitness. I love to watch Olympic events like track and field, gymnastics, and figure skating. Many sports provide us with spiritual uplift through awesome displays of skill, courage, and determination. What I object to is the sheer IDOLATRY, the perverse worship that society adorns on athletes, many of whom have never done anything truly admirable in their lives.

The extraordinary fame and fortune achieved by professional athletes is relentlessly dangled before the eyes of America's youth like a golden carrot. Sports stars like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant were multi-millionaires before their twentieth birthdays. How can we expect our kids to feel content with "ordinary" lives when they are programmed to idolize (and envy) people who have "everything?" Unfortunately, few youngsters realize that they statistically have a better shot at getting hit by a satellite from space than they do of making it as pro athletes.

The reason sports are so popular in America is obvious: a lot of people (almost all men) use sports viewing as a means of vicarious ego-empowerment. We've all had the misfortune of viewing a sporting event in the presence of such a person. It becomes immediately apparent that the individual is insane, because he screams and curses and throws things like a maniac when "his team" does poorly, and he howls like a banshee and pounds his chest in celebration when "his team" does well. Of course, this poor crazy person does not realize that "his team" is not, in reality, "his." In fact, the billionaire athletes in whom he invests so much emotion would probably not spit on him if he was on fire.

Sports fanaticism may seem like a harmless personality quirk, but the results of this PATHOLOGY can be deadly. We all remember the "fan" who stabbed Monica Seles in the back, because he wanted his idol Steffi Graff to be the number one tennis player in the world. In parts of Europe and Latin America, soccer referees are stalked, threatened, beaten, and even murdered if the "wrong" team loses a game. And in the U.S., fisticuffs among "fans" at any sporting event is hardly uncommon. Believe it or not, the cause of this MENTAL ILLNESS may be at least partly physical. A recent study in Italy discovered that "mirror neurons" in the brain cause fans to experience sports as if they are the athletes themselves. (Source: This might explain why a literal "armchair quarterback" will piss so much of his life away celebrating and mourning the successes and failures of other people.

I don't belong to any religion, so I generally avoid using biblical references in my writings, but I remember a particularly choice line from the Bible about not worshipping "false idols." The real "cultural plague" caused by professional sports has little to do with the sports themselves. The problem is this sick, perverse idolatry that pervades our entire celebrity-obsessed culture.

If you wish to watch sports for a little relaxation and "entertainment," far be it from me to judge you. But understand this: Every minute that the "news" media in this country devotes to sports is a minute that could be spent covering something that ACTUALLY MATTERS. Every minute you spend on your couch drinking beer and screaming at the tube is a minute that could be spent playing with your kids, reading a book, or exercising outdoors. Every minute you waste BELIEVING THAT ANY OF IT MATTERS draws you one minute closer to your death.