why sports

  • Oakland A's - "The 'A' in A's may stand for a lot of things, but Average is not one of them."
  • The Nation, Special Issue - Sports : A View from Left Field, August 10, 1998.
  • Tour de France Spectator's Guide - by Matt Griffiths. Great advice which captures the parts of the race that the media doesn't.

  • Sports may be among the most powerful human expressions in all history,"

    Gerald Early writes in the opening essay of this issue, and perhaps more than sex, to which it relates in all kinds of complicated and not-so-complicated ways, sport elaborates in its rituals what it means to be human: the play, the risk, the trials, the collective impulse to games, the thrill of physicality, the necessity of strategy; defeat, victory, defeat again, pain, transcendence and, most of all, the certainty that nothing is certain--that everything can change and be changed.

    But if sport is a powerful expression, it is also
    an expression of power. Any Olympics tells us this. In economic terms, what we might call the gross national sports product is at least $350 billion, six times what it was a decade ago. In terms of popular culture, probably nothing enters public consciousness on such a scale. Some 133 million Americans watched the Super Bowl this year, wildly outdistancing the 47 million who re-elected Bill Clinton.

    There is an old chestnut on the left that sports are nothing but cheap amusements to divert the people from their problems. To which one may ask, What's wrong with a little diversion? For most people, life is hard, leisure a luxury, and the physical arts are no less valid than any other. Denigration of sport merely recapitulates the modern devaluation of the physical -- for, after all, if sports are an art, they are also an extravagant, often brutal form of work.

    More to the point, as a cultural product, sport represents less an abdication from serious things than an arena in which these have always been enacted and contested. As far back as the sixteenth century, English kings proscribed the games ofthe people as a sacrilege or a distraction from the more useful practice of war skills. In the nineteenth century, when modern sports were organized, baseball and football were gentlemen's games, their hours of play and ticket prices set not to entrap but to exclude the rabble, whose access to these coincided with the growing power of labor and the fight for the eight-hour day. (In this sense, as "eight hours for what we will" becomes ever more elusive and sporting arenas more pricey, we find ourselves regressing to that earlier time.)

    Much is made of Jackie Robinson's braking the color line in baseball, but behind that were years of agitation by black newspapers, black organizations and the Communist Party. Some of the first mass protests and sit-ins of the civil rights movement, in 1940-41, involved sports. Black men were not only kept out of baseball; they were subject to exclusion or restriction in pro football, from 1933 to 1961, and so on even to horse racing. None of those bans were lifted without a fight, just as the explosion of women's sports would be unthinkable without women's liberation; the openness of Martina Navratilova and other athletes, without gay liberation.

    Likewise today, the siphoning of money from communities into the pockets of sports owners and stars will not be reversed, and their fortunes will not be redistributed down to the local playground, without a fight.

    The Nation , Special Issue - Sports: A View from Left Field , August 10, 1998.