Spectator sports: sentimental, beastly, and ubiquitous. Society uses it for crowd control.
I don’t want to stay up until midnight watching a baseball game when I have to work the next day. Spectator sports, with its reproduced fantasy leagues, are overwhelming, and splintering, our society, producing a cultural wasteland of gamblers and superficial, passive consumers.
Last night, as I was walking past restaurant/bars with TVs, most had some meaningless football game on—even as the Giants were playing to win the pennant.
When I was kid in NYC, the world series was on during the day, and everyone followed this one event; the LA Dodgers might have been playing; it didn’t matter if the teams were not from New York; the world series was on, and every store-front TV broadcast the games; you could hear the world series on every AM radio as you walked down Broadway, or through Central park.
I remember getting a new baseball glove for my birthday, one for a lefty, and it was signed by Tom Seaver, who was a righty. OK, that was cool. I wasn’t a Mets fan, either, but that was alright. It was my glove, and, after all, I was a Tom. I never thought the glove would get worn in, but eventually it was perfect. The gift of a glove was accidental and tactile; my father probably took the last lefty glove available at the store: Tom Seaver, well, OK, I’ll take it. But it served, even though it wasn’t the ideal choice.
There weren’t fantasy baseball teams, but there was Strat-O-Matic baseball, played with dice; again, more tactile. My group of friends in upper Manhattan, (we played a lot of sandlot sports in Riverside park) all played Strat-O-Matic baseball.
There was more sandlot, and less official leagues, when I was growing up. As amateurs, we were our own refs; designed our own plays, rules, nicknames, teams, and boundaries. Today, kids spend their lives in grown-up run, official leagues starting at a very young age. Is this why, despite all our modern technological innovations, we think outside the box even less, now? Is this one of the reasons why we have less imagination, and top-down, corporate, thinking is the guiding philosophy more than ever?
Sports was just as ubiquitous in the U.S. in 1965 as it is today; boys were not poets; they were sports fans; this was as true then, as it is today. But baseball was the game, and baseball had an equal amount of blacks, whites, and Latins; today there are more choices, but also more divisions; there are more specialilzed, isolated differences that separate and alienate—and are often sources of subtle resentment.
There’s more technology and communication today, but more segregation and separation. How did that happen? Hockey is still white. Baseball is losing blacks. Basketball and football—especially defenses—are almost entirely black. People can blend into their specialized tribe, and the choice to do so is a ‘good.’ This is good, right?
Can we blame technology and the 100 plus cable channels? Sometimes I think we’re too quick to blame technology.
We’ve always had a choice to pay attention to X, rather than Y, no matter how many cable channels there are.
The question is: why did those bars put on that meaningless football game, instead of the game that might decide the pennant? Who made that choice, and why?
I think it has something to do with the fact that we don’t feel like a whole society anymore, but I don’t know if you can blame that on 100 cable channels; whatever the reason, there’s an increasing sense that we are separate, competing sectors who resent each other along political, social, cultural, and class lines.
Take a classic division: white collar and blue collar. One could certainly argue that back in 1965, there was one channel showing sports, the world series, and white collar and blue collar together watched the world series.
Now, with more choices, the blue collars, let’s say, make the decision to watch football, because it’s a rougher and tougher game, while the white collars, who are more cerebral, choose to watch baseball. Maybe these decisions are not made consciously, but they are made, and the choices available due to technological advances end up driving people apart, emphasizing, and even increasing all sorts of differences.
My Dad was a New York Giants fan, so I became a Giants fan, too, even though they played in San Francisco—and I lived in New York. So began my disdain for home town rooters; my worldly, open-minded sophistication was born in a banal choice: which team do I support? San Francisco had stars like Marichal, McCovey, and Mays, but never won a championship, and so a disappointment deepened whatever was already there. Did all this make me a writer?
Even though society today is more fluid, more mobile, and there are more choices and more channels of communication today, fans seem to be fixated on a home team, or on one team over others, more than ever. Why is this? Why, with all these cable channels, are people more rigid, more tribal, and more separated?
But before we die in a nostalgic, sentimental swoon, we should bring things back to reality. What is the nature of professional sports, really?
Sports rewards arrogance and teeth-baring and cheating. Sports is war. It belongs to the god Mars. People like George Will, the ‘literary’ sports writers for certain city papers, the nice old men who write those smarmy books on the game, the network broadcasters who try to come across as intelligent, perceptive, good-humored, reasonable gentlemen, falsely glaze over, for the more civilized members of their audience, what the game really is: the unsportsmanlike raiding of the best players on poor teams by rich teams (in the name of ‘player freedom’), the headhunting by pitchers who increase their value by letting the batter know: I will kill you, not to mention all the vicious, evil stuff that goes on behind the scenes, the illegal drugs, the fixing and throwing of games, the gambling, and organized crime pulling strings—and that’s just baseball.
The NFL is obviously a thousand times worse. Every pro player, in every contact sport, numbs themselves to the horror, and they really don’t care who wins; they’re happy to survive (even as they please the coach and the crowd by willing to maim and be maimed on every play) and bring home that large paycheck. There are no heroes. A player sticks out his bat…oh, look what I did, I hit a homerun! But at the end of the day, all that matters is the big bucks the players make. Meanwhile, fans with miserable lives believe that it matters. Can you say, “Plato’s Cave?”
In the playoffs this weekend, if the Yanks or Phils sneak in, what a tragedy. Big bank accounts with hired guns back in the world series. No offense to Philly and Yankee fans—they are from those cities, so obviously they can’t help it.
Ever since the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, in the 1970s, purchased world-champion superstars from the Athletics, turning his team into world champions because of those purchases, the game was essentially ruined. The Curt Flood clause, which introduced the nutty idea that players are ‘free’ to play where they want to play, handed the game over to the money men.
Baseball touts the exceptions, in which teams with low budgets, the Marlins, the Twins, win it all, but that doesn’t change the overall reality of the harsh inequity. A team which has been awful for years, like the Royals or Pirates, cannot afford to keep a good player, a Johnny Damon, or a Jason Bay; they go elsewhere for more money.
The fixing of games in the NFL is a real problem. Poets instinctively know that if a referee makes one bad call in a crucial situation, this will affect the game’s result. The play in football is confusing, rules governing holding and pass interference are very gray, and thus, in broad daylight, through calls and non-calls, results of games can easily be steered in a certain direction, for a definite result.
The NFL has a large audience, just as Pro (fake) Wrestling does, and the former has increasingly come to resemble the latter, even though most NFL fans don’t realize how fake and fixed their game is; fans see inexplicably bad calls by refs, and shake them off; they want their game to be ‘real,’ so they say to themselves, ‘refs are human; they make mistakes.’ Oh, yes, refs are ‘human’ alright. Trillion dollar sports planners understand that to sell their product they need good guys and bad guys, ‘hero quarterback’ story-lines and dynasties, and if some very visible stars feature disgusting or even criminal behavior in their personal lives, if some ‘genius’ coaches cheat to win, well, in the corporate business of ‘bread and circuses,’ that’s all the better. The sports market will do anything to ’win.’
A sport played by an individual, such as tennis, is a safer bet to be fair.