DISCLAIMER: This editorial isn’t intended to disparage those who like sports. Sports encourage physical well-being and can build character in young people. The criticisms here are directed at those who make money from big-name sports as entertainment. Not the fans. But if you’re sensitive to my opinions, leave a comment, and I’ll dig out my old boxing gloves.
John Lennon, in his song “Working Class Hero,” rails against nebulous power elites for keeping the rest of us “doped with religion and sex and TV.” He could have also included “sports.”
Until recently I was a fairly big sports fan. I liked athletic competition (and still do). I admired the skill required to pinpoint a receiver forty yards downfield, or smack a 95 mph fastball over the fence, or nail a jump shot over outstretched arms at the buzzer. When my boy was small, I enjoyed attending trading card conventions with him, and watching our favorite teams on TV. I bought the merchandise (hats, jerseys, flags… you name it). I was a cheerful little sports consumer.
But over time I became more jaded. Some might say “Well, you shouldn’t have picked Cleveland teams.” Or “For heaven’s sake, why did you choose Penn State over Ohio State??” Honestly though, picking losing pro teams and a shattered college team isn’t why, on weekend afternoons, I now go to the art museum or prune my azaleas.
These are the reasons:
1. Stupid TV commercials. They’re dumb everywhere these days, but they’re especially dumb during sports broadcasts. Maybe because advertisers know that most sports viewers are men, and men are dumber than women. So if it’s not “The all-new this” or “The all-new that” (usually referring to a car or TV sitcom… these things are never “half-new”), it’s a pig squealing “Wheeee!!” from a car window, or a talking gecko, or Flo, or Peyton “I’ll sell anything!” Manning, or some other redundant image trying to dig into my wallet.
2. The Super Bowl. This orgy of capitalism might be a good excuse for a party in dreary February, but the action on the field is only incidental to the media frenzy and swirling commercialism. Every piece of this bombastic event is sold to the highest bidder: pre-game show, trophy presentation, televised replays, touchdowns, field goals, and, of course, the atrocious halftime extravaganzas. It’s gotten so bad, even some advertisers are complaining about the gluttony. And the alcohol and junk food emphasis should require a public health warning. My wife looks forward to the “funniest Super Bowl commercial.” I look forward to the day when Western civilization is no longer in decline.
3. League of Denial. The National Football League recently settled out of court with ex-NFL players, who sued the league for ignoring the seriousness of concussive injuries. As detailed in the book LEAGUE OF DENIAL: THE NFL, CONCUSSIONS AND THE BATTLE FOR TRUTH, the NFL went as far as hiring its own dubious “experts” to debunk the reality of serious brain trauma caused by repetitive head impact. With the settlement, Commissioner Roger Goodell and company are betting their troubles will disappear. But unless all helmet contact is outlawed, and the league actually gets serious about fines and suspensions, there will be more Mike Websters and Junior Seaus. In the meantime, the NFL hopes fans suffer collective amnesia on this subject, and asks… “Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?!!”
4. Steroid use. All I can say about this is that baseball records and statistics used to have meaning.
5. Ex-jocks in the broadcast booth. This is a disease that’s spreading rapidly. Who would have thought I’d yearn for Howard Cosell? Howard would be crestfallen at the surfeit of grammatically bemused rhetoricians today (and he’d use those exact words). What’s worse than bad English are the endless clichés like “He’s a class act.” The underlying meaning of “He’s a class act” is that the individual mentioned is an exception, so his peers must therefore be without class. So the “class act” is the football player who doesn’t thump his chest after a tackle, or gyrate in the end zone after a touchdown. Maybe it’s the baseball player who graciously agrees to forego a raise in his multi-million-dollar contract to stay with the same team. Perhaps it’s the team owner who at the last minute decides – with feigned humility – to keep his asset (sports team) in the same city. Or any coach or athlete who flaunts his Christian faith. According to ex-jocks-in-the-broadcast-booth, these are all examples of “class acts.”
6. NCAA hypocrisy. College sports were once a refuge from the corruptness of the professionals. That was yesterday. Today, college football and basketball are swimming in money. So it’s ok for the NCAA to stuff its athletes into Final Four TV ads, while simultaneously penalizing a college coach (the late Rick Majerus) for buying a player a meal after the player’s dad died. Or as sportswriter Frank Deford puts it, “peddling sanctimonious claptrap about how it really cares about academics” when its real concern is revenue. More recently, there’s the controversy over the NCAA’s spider web of lawsuits with video gaming company EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Company, after uniting with them to profiteer from student-athletes’ likenesses. The NCAA also violated its own rules by sanctioning Penn State University without conducting an investigation (the Freeh report was outside of the NCAA), and for disallowing appeal. What happened in Happy Valley was tragic beyond belief. But it seems to me the NCAA can just make and break rules whenever it sees fit (and when it can get away with it).
I’ve talked to others who agree with me on the above. And a few have also taken the bold step of boycotting. Problem is, everything seems to suddenly be forgiven and forgotten when your favorite team wins four games in a row (I wouldn’t know about this, though).
But lest you think I spend all my time watching “Antiques Roadshow” reruns, I haven’t completely sworn off televised sports. I’ll probably tune in the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. And I love watching tennis. I also find televised golf very relaxing (despite having to endure hearing Tiger Woods’s name every two minutes – even when he’s not in the tournament). I may even start following ice hockey or soccer. There may be few authentic class acts sprinkled in those sports. But I first need to examine the commercials, and find out how many ex-jocks are in the broadcast booth.