Thoughtful Bastards: Pro sports are destroying society

I’m beginning to realize that I blame almost all of societies, nay- the worlds problems on sports. Everywhere I look I see insidious sports toxins being injected into the very fiber of our collective existence. Someone’s got to sound the alarm and as Bob Dylan once said: “I guess it’s up to me”. My gauntlet is assembled and I’m about to throw it down despite your incredulity and skepticism ( Yes, I can sense your incredulity and skepticism from here).

I’ve recently been arguing with people about pro-sports stadiums and complaining that pro-sports is exerting an increasingly toxic effect on our civilization; distorting priorities, draining resources, blunting our culture, and corrupting our political process. These accusations and the attending incontrovertible evidence can be found in my previous blogs which all right-thinking people have already read or are about to read.

(See the links at the end of this article)

One problem that has plagued me throughout these stadiums debates has been the fact that stadium proponents often refuse to provide an actual rationale for government subsidies of professional sports as entertainment, the question is: “Why is it the governments job to provide professional football”.  Why football or Baseball instead of cable TV, or bowling? Why is the government’s job to guarantee that a sports franchise won’t leave town? It’s not easy to get an answer to this question, first you have wade through all the spurious economic arguments and other distractions but I persevered, and  someone on Minnpost.com was finally gracious enough to provide an answer:

My rationale is that I want the government to provide things like health care, and parks and libraries, and schools, and roads and yes, even football teams when the price is right …

The way democracy works is when my guys win, I get the stuff I want. When the other guys wins, his supporters get the stuff he wants, in this case, a couple of hundred bucks which they can use to make a down payment on season tickets to the Packers. A hundred years from now when their names reach the top of the waiting list.

When I pointed out that democracy isn’t supposed to be about winners getting what they want while losers get to pay for it I got the following response:

When you win, you get to tell the elected officials you voted for not to oppose the things you support. But sociopath though I may be, I won’t be telling my guys that. I will be telling them that I voted for them and worked hard to get them elected to office, not because of their pleasing personalities, or because of how cute they looked on the campaign lit, I did those things because I expect them to pursue the policies I support.”

Although this person was not speaking for anyone but himself, I think these comments are representative of the attitude of many stadium supporters, and I’ve come across this attitude before. Worse, I think it’s the attitude of many of my fellow citizens. You can see the evil influence of a sports mentality at work here. (the writer is responding to my suggestion that a sociopathic infiltration of the “game” into our political discourse is underway. You can read the entire exchange Here at the Minnpost website).

Democracy isn’t a game. Public policy isn’t a competition. The idea that a democratic government should reward “winners” and ignore “losers” is a perversion of the very notion of democracy. Democratic governments are supposed to work for everyone, not just the people who voted for the “winners”.  My Governor, President, Mayor, or Congressperson are supposed to represent me whether I voted for them or not. To imagine a government that works any other way is to imagine a corrupt government that divides people into worthy and unworthy constituents.

This winning-is-everything sports attitude is constantly and increasingly on display throughout our political dialogue. I’ve seen politicians tell suffering constituents: “If you don’t like what I’m doing start winning elections”. Republicans tell us: “Elections matter” which means they get to do what they want once elected regardless of consequences. Democracy is supposed be government by the people, but the sports mentality puts government beyond the reach of “losers”, it divides and polarizes our community. It reduces elections from an exercise in civic responsibility to one of base consumerism whereby winners expect to get what they want regardless of it’s effect on others.

In a game of any kind polarization is irrelevant if not necessary. Opponents in games don’t work together towards common objectives for any kind of over-all good. In a game the only objective is to win. Competitors in games aren’t expected to work together or recognize any values or objectives outside the game. Players in games don’t have constituents they’re supposed to represent. Games exist for no other reason than personal gratification.

Here in Minnesota our hyper polarized legislator has recently adjourned without a budget agreement. This will likely cause a government shut down. Governor Dayton keeps dragging out football analogies to describe the situation, he talks of meeting at the 50 yard line. But when football teams meet at the 50 yard line, it isn’t so they can compromise and work together towards a common objective. Is it any wonder that our society becomes more polarized the more obsessed we become with sports? The more reliant we become on sports metaphors and analogies to describe our problems and interactions the more divisive we become. In a game it would be absurd to ask whether or not winning is the right thing to do. When we treat public policy like some kind of ball that’s being moved around in a game and stop asking whether or not a given policy is the right thing to do, we turn public policy into an exercise of perverse competition.

You will note that the comment above places the desire to watch football (at the right price) on the same policy level of education, health care, and libraries. This is brand loyalty masquerading as legitimate public policy. It pretends that just because you can get the political process to consider professional sports subsidies they must legitimate civic problems.

Listen, I get it, sports is fun, and it’s supposed to be fun. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to play. Remember though, we’ve made sports fun over the centuries by rendering it harmless and inconsequential and giving it it’s own isolated place in our society. Sports is isolated because the things that go on there are frequently illegal in the real world. If you tackle, or punch someone on the street the way players do in games you get arrested. Athletes no longer play for their lives like gladiators used to, and no one loses their health care if the Yankee’s win a baseball game. But when you take the sports mentality out that controlled environment and apply it to governance you turn fellow citizens into opponents that are to be defeated on a field of play where there are no referees, and no instant replays. Unlike sports where the most severe consequence is a lost game, public policy when done wrong, can harm or even kill people. It may be absurd to ask an athlete whether or not it’s right or wrong to win a game, but when we stop asking whether or not our laws, policies, and priorities are right or wrong, we become sociopaths whose only interest is personal gratification.

So there you have it, this is how sports turns us all into monsters. This is how you go from being a happy go lucky neighbor walking your dog on a sunny afternoon to being Hannibal Lector. In future blogs I’ll explain how sports has ruined our news and information media, and how sports monopolizes and colonizes our culture. Sports is like I virus I tell ya.

Here are the links to my previous related articles:

Pro Sports Are Bad For People, And I’m Pretty Sure They’re Bad For Puppies and Kittens As Well
Professional Sports Subsidies Don’t Add Up For Taxpayers Anymore
A Short Follow Up On Sports Subsidies In Minnesota

This blog was written by Paul Udstrand and originally published on Thoughtful Bastards.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Bob Stanke on 05/30/2011 - 08:45 pm.

    This article is exactly why I like the Blog Cabin section… discovering new blogs with new perspectives. Well written and now I have even subscribed to your RSS feed on your site. Good stuff!

    Bob Stanke

  2. Submitted by NINA HEDIN on 05/31/2011 - 07:50 am.

    Hear hear! Government uses professional sports as a distraction. If everyone is crying/cheering over the (insert team name here) last loss/win…. they aren’t paying attention to bad government behavior. 😉

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/31/2011 - 10:13 am.

    Well said.

    For the most part, the public has decided to willfully ignore two salient facts.

    First, sports are merely entertainment, just like the movies or live theater. The same people who dismiss a film actor’s opinion about some public issue as irrelevant because “What does an actor know?” will listen reverentially as a sports star provides his personal theory of the origin of the universe. A century ago, if your daughter was dating a professional athlete, it was akin to her dating a professional gambler. That is, the public in general would question her choice of someone regarded as borderline sleazy. What’s changed in the ensuing century is not the athlete, it’s the public’s attitude toward making a living as an athlete.

    Second, and to me more important, is that sports are merely children’s games, played at the highest level by young adults. We should not be surprised when athletes behave childishly (and in fact, we usually are not surprised). They are, after all, engaged in a childish pursuit. The ongoing and indefensible travesty of college athletics is simply the minor league version of this same mind set. What academic credentials do the majority of college basketball and football players have when their college athletic careers are over? Many college athletes (at some schools, it’s the majority) never graduate, thus making a mockery of the whole rationale for an athletic “scholarship.”

    I’m inclined to side with Nina (#2). Sports constitute a distraction from the serious business of running a society.

  4. Submitted by greg copeland on 05/31/2011 - 12:59 pm.

    The problem is not sports.

    Our stadium problem is about the petty politicans who seek their validation as ‘leaders’ by pleasing the billionaires who invest in professional sports because it has become the model enterprise of how to use Other People’s Money to generate future profits through the sale of franchises that have legal protection from any competition all financed with public money and a tax code that makes ‘ownership’ an exceptionally profitable enterprise during the appreciation period.

    Petty Politicians with Empire Complexs are not new; Emperor Vespasian, from 70-82, ordered the building of the Roman Colosseum, and neither is their desire genuflect at the alter of the super-rich to build monuments to themselves at great public expense.

    Governor Mark Dayton is just the latest Emperor with an insatiable urge to declare, “Let the Games Begin!”, in his “People’s” Coliseum.

    The irony is for all the sanctimonious drivel about building a “People’s” stadium; Dayton and his cast of Courtiers in the legislature and local government will not, Trust the People to vote, on whether the public really wants to turn over the people’s Billion dollars to build these politicians a monument and the billionaire franchise owner a future profit center.

    So much for Minnesota’s embrace of public policy leadership. Let the Games Begin!, the voice of the people be damned.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/01/2011 - 07:44 am.

    Nina and Ray,

    In the preceding blog on Thoughtful Bastards I actually refer to sports as the opium of the people.

Leave a Reply