Are you tired of being told that the sports you watch are inconsequential and that athletes are overpaid? Sick of being lectured for not paying sufficient attention to the “issues that matter”? Good news: By ignoring the sad displays of the political class in favor of enjoying athletic competition, you’re doing yourself – and society – a huge favor. Read on.
1. In sports, what you see is what you get. On the basketball floor, a point guard is going to do his job: Setting up the offense, finding the open man, and shooting when open. The other players, down to the 12th man, have their assignments and they do them. Roles are defined, and everybody gets to work. The results – a point differential, usually – speak for themselves and are unambiguous.
Not so with politics. When they’re not turning around and doing the opposite of what they promised voters they’d do, politicians are busy running for some new job instead of doing the current one. Politicians are also the biggest poseurs on the planet; they cannot help wanting to be all things to all people in their desperate gambits for approval. Would Shaquille O’Neal lobby his coach to play point guard? No, but Hillary Clinton could not resist pretending to be Jewish and a Yankees fan immediately after moving to New York and launching her senate campaign. And as for the results, let’s just say political point-scoring is an unpalatable spectacle. With the exception of actual, up-or-down voting (you know, doing their jobs), the “political game” is a subjective, narcissistic bout of mud-slinging with no definitive winners or losers. That is, except for taxpayers.
2. Athletes are far more respected for their profession than are politicians. This may seem unfair at first, since no Olympic javelin thrower ever had to make the decision to launch missiles. Certainly, playing in games is of far less consequence than some of the issues confronting legislators and executives. If the argument could end there, then politicians would deserve having all those middle schools named after them. But it doesn’t end there, does it?
As pointed out above, politicians lose points because they’re uncomfortable in their own skin, they fight dirty, and they’re slippery and disingenuous. Their profession not only does not forbid outright sleaziness, it encourages it. It’s bad enough that they will do or say anything for a vote, but worse still is that politicians are slaves to the corporate money trough. We could drag out the Clintons again as an example, but there’s nothing unique about the ethical gymnastics they’ve performed to build their fortune. If you wrote a big enough check for a congressman, there’s very little he won’t say or do for it. Does that remind you of another timeless profession?
Athletes get into their fare share of scandals, but the fact remains that as a whole their profession is held in higher regard by the general public. If you don’t believe me, look at the parades that are thrown for World Series winners, or welcome-home rallies that are held at airports for also-rans. Even fans of rival teams can have grudging respect for players they “hate,” because their field of battle holds more honor than any collusive two-party election debate.
If you require further evidence, ask yourself why presidents invite championship teams to the White House for photo ops, visit historic stadiums, or seek celebrity athlete endorsements. Clearly they’re hoping that that winning popularity will rub off just a little. Now ask yourself if Lebron James cares whether the governor of Ohio is watching him play from the stands. And as for retired athletes that go into politics (think Jim Bunning, Steve Largent, or Bill Bradley), that’s a sure fire way to alienate a good portion of your fan base.
3. Sports cultivate healthy geographic rivalries, while politics promote ugly divisions. When people root for teams to beat other teams, they’re engaging in a (generally) healthy form of tribalism that’s been embedded in our brains since we were cavemen. Green Bay fans “hate” Chicago, and Boston fans “hate” New York. Even fan bases that are relatively close (think: Duke-North Carolina) can’t help but get swept up in border rivalries. These rivalries promote civic, national, or cultural pride, wherein even down-on-their-luck cities like Detroit can have something to cheer about.
The political class, meanwhile, finds “issues” that divide society based on religion, personal taste, sex, race, money, and the like, and exploit them in the crassest possible fashion – all in the name of career advancement. When you see two groups shouting each other down at some silly protest, stop and think for a moment who might stand to gain from such an ugly display. Politicians love divisions, because it whips people into frenzies, mobilizes them to vote or finance campaigns, and – worst of all – distracts them from the very real evils being perpetrated in government…usually by politicians themselves. Neat trick, no?
We can’t totally blame politicians for this, however, since we’re the ones allowing ourselves to be manipulated. Next time you feel like taking sides and screaming your head off about something, do it at a ball park. They have beer. And nachos.
4. Watching athletics can encourage athletic activity. No, watching sports is not tantamount to participating in them, but at least it can encourage some of us to get out and get the blood pumping. When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to shoot hoops after watching Michael Jordan. Younger fans will emulate their sports heroes, and many will go on to their own heroics, whether it’s at the high school level, the Olympics, or just in the backyard.
Watching politicians “compete” may also encourage athletic activity, if you find yourself so disgusted that you flip off the TV and go for a nice, mind-cleansing run. Unfortunately, it more frequently encourages bitter arguments and overall anger and negativity.
5. The sports pages tell the story of mankind’s accomplishments. The front pages tell the story of mankind’s folly. Okay, so nobody reads actual newspapers, but you get what I mean. The stories about athletic competition are most often joyous and inspiring. A new 100-meter dash record is set, or a grand slam is hit, or an aging tennis player beats the odds and hangs on through the semifinals before going down swinging. Their accomplishments are amazing physical feats, poetry in motion deserving of the accolades we shower upon them. No, they’re not curing cancer (or maybe they are, when they run for the cure). But they’re showing us what’s possible, and what’s good, and what’s fun in life.
Now flip to the front pages. Besides sensational sex or death headlines, it’s story after story about what our leaders failed to do or did wrong. A bill got stuck in committee. A representative took payoffs. A senator ignored hard evidence and voted on superstition. A governor had an affair. A president wiretapped a nation. It’s one pathetic disappointment after another. Sure, every once in a great while, something momentous occurs, but that’s more often than not a) because the public got fed up and demanded it and b) in spite of the efforts of a lot of politicians.
Spectator sports are entertainment, and society cannot get by on entertainment alone. But I submit to you that the athletic entertainment we consume propels us to greater things, without the help (or obstruction) of government. When we enjoy the feats of athletes, we believe that we, too, can rise to our own challenges, fight the good fight, accept the final score, and shake hands with our opponents when it’s all said and done.