Is our sports culture hurting men?
I’m not interested in sports at all, not football, baseball, hockey or basketball. Every day someone asks if I’ve seen this game or that, and no matter how many times I shrug in ignorance, people keep asking. I work to avoid sports news, but it continues to creep into my peripheral vision, especially lately. There was something about the baseball hall of fame, and then I heard some more nonsense about Lance Armstrong. In my own city, there’s been a yearlong fight about public funding for a stadium. Even as I’m barraged with incessant sports infotainment, I’m more convinced than ever that spectator sports harm men.
Playing sports in amateur leagues is a great way to stay active and fit. I also understand the appeal of the Olympic Games, a finite event that combines the spectacle of nations with the striving of mostly unknown athletes. Everything else to do with sports seems like a waste at best and a serious harm (especially to men) at worse.
Often even the good part of sports, the playing, does more harm than good. For instance, why does the average high school football player risk his health for the game? Average players will never see a dime for their efforts, but they’ll often limp through life like professionals, with bad joints and chronic injuries.
My biggest irritation with sports is the fandom. Sports teams separate people by geography, while at the same creating artificial tribalism in a world that could use much less of it. Why do we insist on splitting America into smaller and smaller villages? I’m especially troubled by the common use of the pronoun “we” in statements like: “We won the big game!” It sounds silly and exclusive to me.
How many hours are sacrificed on the altar of spectator sports? I have a bunch of kids, two of whom are very young. I have a hard time checking out for an hour, let alone an entire Sunday to watch some game or other. Two football games can take eight or even ten hours on an average Sunday. As much as I believe parents should set aside moments for themselves, time loses all meaning when it comes to sports fanaticism.
I also can’t understand why we find it so interesting to watch professional athletes beat the hell out of each other in the first place. Concussions in football are serious, but they aren’t the only danger by far. Professional athletes are often loaded up with steroids and painkillers, and many die premature and painful deaths. I don’t know how a civilized society can condone such a thing as entertainment.
The financial issues are also hard to comprehend. In the worse economic conditions in decades, the city leadership of my hometown, Reno, voted to give a billionaire “investor” millions of tax dollars to help fund the Reno Aces ballpark. The vote was overturned after the latest election, but I don’t understand how it passed in the first place. Studies show that public expenditures in arenas never recoup the tax money used, and this fiscal profanity is small compared to the perverse financial incentives in college sports.
I also can’t stand the version of masculinity that’s promoted by the sporting culture—that of the stereotypical grunting, heaving, addle-brained muscle man. Certainly there are other versions of manhood to which young men can aspire. And why do so many young men riot when a favored team loses, and likewise, why does the same group of men riot when their team wins? I know this sounds snobby or even effeminate, but to men I say read a poem or something, anything other than a contest pitting one unnaturally beefy, muscled brute against another.
I can’t even go out for a hamburger without having twenty-five big screen televisions blaring games in every restaurant in town. I’d boycott the places if I could, but I’d be left eating at a hot dog stand at the bus station. The art of quiet conversation over dinner is being slowly murdered with sports pollution.
In many ways I’m just lucky that I’ve never been interested in sports. I have to thank my own father, the biggest non-fan ever, for giving me freedom from fandom plus all my Sundays free. I know that many men will view my distaste for sports as an attack on America, but someone has to say it. I don’t want to seem superior or mean, but professional athletes are a bunch of millionaires who bash each other’s brains in for our amusement. Certainly there’s a better way to understand ourselves as Americans and as men.
Image credit: KellBailey/Flickr