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The Self Shelf: In defense of (liking) sports

Published: October 15, 2010
Section: Opinions


It’s the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the World Series. The home team is down by one run. There are two outs. The count is three and two. The pitcher stares down the batter at home plate. Bar rooms, homes, gyms and every other venue you can think of across America fall silent, outweighed by the roar of the crowd. The pitcher completes his windup, lets the pitch fly and … who cares? It’s just a stupid game of overpaid people playing a children’s game that no intelligent person could possibly care about.

When I first came to Brandeis, I was surprised to hear this view actually articulated. I was even more surprised to hear it widely articulated. Throughout my life, I have met people who do not like sports–I have no problem with this whatsoever. Yet to disparage those who do seems a little bit harsh, especially when you consider the arguments for and against sports as games which transcend the fields they’re played on. So without further ado, here is a defense of sports and the people who enjoy watching them.

First of all, the first and foremost value of sports is the social and communitarian skills which they imbibe in their players. When you are young, playing on a team can build valuable social skills. You may wonder how this could translate to professional sports. The answer is that fanhood (and yes, I just coined that word) builds many of the same social skills. The idea that a community can rally around a local sports team is incredibly important in a society where people are losing the traditional social institutions which have facilitated community in the past. An example would be the idea of friends getting together to watch “the game.” It’s something to do and if you happen to meet a stranger, it’s common ground and an easy conversation starter.

Secondly, sports create community pride. Back in the good old days, if a community thought it was superior to another, it would gather the warriors and try to beat the community into submission or otherwise make it into a tributary. Yet the progress of civilization seems to have labeled that immoral. So what’s the next best thing? Sports! From the World Cup to your town’s Little League Team, sports are all about communities competing in a harmless competition that promotes athletic skills. Additionally, if countries all across the world can come together for a venue such as the Olympics, it is generally good for world unity.

Furthermore, it is not necessarily irrational to identify one’s self with one’s local team. The argument for this view is usually something along the lines of “Well, you’re not doing anything …” Fine, I must admit, I am not personally batting in the bottom of the ninth. But when I go to games or even watch games, I am personally contributing to the team. For what is a team in any sport without revenue? Alright, you could say the Marlins but nevertheless, the teams with more revenue tend to do better. Furthermore, in sports with a salary cap, you can still help build better facilities for your team.

Additionally, we identify with teams that we don’t have anything to do with all the time. For example, when you root for the main character in the latest blockbuster or even your alma mater (in matters other than sports), you are advocating for actors who don’t affect you. Furthermore, if you enjoy sports (which, like any competition, involves taste rather than intelligence), there is no reason that the fact that you don’t play them should prevent you from it. If I enjoy watching “CSI,” the fact that I’m not a crime scene investigator doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it and still maintain my dignity.

My final reason for defending sports is rather simple. The general idea of rewarding those who are good at what they do. The very concept of watching the American Dream in action for people provides an uplifting story for society to reflect upon. Now I realize that baseball players don’t deserve all that money that they get. I would argue that it’s fair for them to receive it because there is a sufficient demand in society to support such a salary but that’s beside the point. In general, it is good for society to see the American Dream come true. And there is nothing wrong with rooting for a guy like Dustin Pedroia, who defied the odds (he’s 5’7”) to become one of the best in baseball. Actually, sports is one of the last truly meritocratic institutions in a country that is becoming increasingly less mobile in terms of financial class.

All in all, I believe that one cannot deny that sports have a generally good effect upon society. They bring communities together, provide good entertainment and allow a glimpse of the American Dream in action. If I enjoy watching it, it makes me no less dignified than one who watches a movie and identifies with the protagonist. And in general, they’re a hell of a lot of fun to watch when you actually feel like you have a stake in the game. Having your team win the Super Bowl, after having followed them through an entire season, is extremely gratifying. Your community has won, your team was the best and no one can really take that away from you.

So to all of you sports haters out there: pipe down, I’m watching the game!