Is it time to reconsider our devotion to big sports?

“...films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.” George Orwell, "1984"

I have to admit, I am totally into people turning off professional football. Sure, I do not like it when players use a pre-game platform to kneel during the National Anthem as a form of protest.  However, my hopes would be that we could return sports to something less corporate in nature, and if the public’s reaction against this new controversy helps in that process then all the better. 

Today professional sports have turned into something bigger than life for many people, and it is not just Americans and football – just look to people across the pond and their obsession with soccer. And this is nothing new really: look at how the gladiator games captivated audiences and were used by the ruling Roman elite not just to unify the population but also distract them from what was taking place in the empire.  In my newest science fiction novel “The Destiny of Our Past” (Amazon link: ) I play with the idea of what role sports might have played in the era of Noah.  The ruling elite combine the reality-show concept with violent arena sports and broadcast them to homes throughout the Atlantian society. And while most people believe technology should tame blood-lust, the truth is that technology is values-neutral. For instance, had the Romans taken the route to industrialization early on I am sure the gladiator games would rank at the top of today’s TV ratings.

So, what is the appeal of big-money sports today? What is the purpose of team sports in general? Well, from a psychological point of view sports serve to satisfy an innate need for tribal identity. Spectators project themselves into the players or team; feeling glee when their team wins, or irritation at a loss.  Of course there will be tomorrow for their side to get revenge. From an anthropological perspective sports are a substitute for actual fighting. Aggressive urges can be satisfied when people substitute fighting for real with a vicarious battle. And of course from a political perspective sports can fill the minds and imaginations of the masses so that they will not pay all that much attention to matters that the elite would prefer remain the privilege of the elite.

Sadly, sports used to be something that involved neighborhood teams back in the 1800s.  That evolved into town and city teams that would compete against each other; and at some stage money began to enter the picture as athletes needed some sort of compensation. Of course at this level regular people still had a real connection to players – often knowing them growing up or seeing them on a regular basis in everyday life. However, once money became part of the game then bigger cities had an advantage in attracting talent and eventually, with advanced in media capabilities, the evolution of the modern arena sports culture began to take shape. 

No doubt our culture is now geared to promoting the idea that sports, be they college, city or corporate, are an indispensable aspect of true masculinity. Young boys growing up are expected to have an interest in national sports, and if they do not their manliness becomes suspect.  As they go through the pep rallies in public school, then the heavy emphasis on sports competitions between higher education institutions, and then reinforced by the all-reaching media, they are almost seen as aliens if they respond to the question, “Who do you want to win the (fill in the blank) game?” with, “I really have no interest in televised sports.” 

Big sports are all-pervasive today. The media benefits through advertising so of course sports celebrities get featured throughout the US media oligopoly.  We see names of celebrities and teams on all manner of clothing and we see sport celebrity endorsements on many products unrelated to sports. Yes, it has morphed into a huge aspect of our society and thus something like football players kneeling through the US National Anthem will certainly get to be the number one story on news and social media.

Yet are big sports really all that great for our society?  What if people were encouraged to be as enthusiastic towards issues that really mattered? What if more Sundays were spent in spiritual activities? What if more weekends were spent with family going on hikes or playing football in the back yard?  What if people were encouraged to sublimate their libidinal energies into learning about what is going on in society and getting involved to make the USA truly great for their kids and grandkids?

This whole kneeling thing will eventually fade away but maybe it could help bring about a more positive outcome of people re-considering what sports is really all about, what possibilities exist for authentic family time and what personal fitness goals could be achieved with a bit of effort.  Big sports are like big Hollywood or any other big business. It is not all bad but when influence becomes so pervasive then it’s time to step back and ask if it is really worth the devotion. 

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Like science fiction that makes you think, that makes you wonder what the future holds if we continue on the course we are on? Then ckeck out my recent novel: 




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