‘If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead’ – Erma Bombeck
Karl Marx, the author of The Communist Manifesto, once wrote that ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’…
Religion’s got nothing on ESPN. If only Karl Marx could have seen that one coming! His cynical statement instead would have read ‘organized sports are the opiate of the masses’.
Now don’t get me wrong; I like watching the occasional game as much as the next guy, especially American football and boxing. I was pretty good at baseball as a kid, too. And I can’t wait to see my college football team (James Madison University) take on the North Dakota State Bison. (The Bison are the ‘New York Yankees’ of college football, with a little bit of the Galactic Empire mixed in. I think Darth Vader is their head coach.)
But sports are meant to be just that: Entertainment. Today’s culture, however, has twisted athletic competitions into something subversive; they’ve gone from being an amusement to being a willful, destructive distraction.
Sadly, this applies across every layer of American life: individual, familial, and societal. What’s amazing to me is not only how obvious this fact is, but how few people see it. When I talk about the concept, your average person looks at me like I’m completely insane. Which is weird, because our culture readily acknowledges the negative consequences of internet and video game addiction.
So let’s break this issue down, and first look at the individual results of being an obsessive sports nut…
At this level, the cultural malaise affects mostly men. As I’m fond of pointing out, men and women possess complimentary-yet-opposite natures. (Yes, sparky, men and women are actually different! Go figure.) Women (painting with a broad brush, of course), are collectively collaborative but individually competitive; that’s how they corral off husbands for themselves, and then coordinate with the neighbors to make sure all the children are looked out for as they play outside. Men, on the other hand, are individually collaborative but collectively competitive; that’s how we form teams and armies, and then try to kick some other army’s rear end.
Because men enjoy competition on a collective level more than an individual one, team sports are extremely seductive to them. (Boxing is the exception to this, but exceptions don’t disprove a general rule.) Men’s interest in team sports is fine in moderation, but it’s incredible how sports – especially in this age of satellite TV and hi-speed internet – often seem to consume men’s lives. I’m in construction, and half of my co-workers do nothing on their days off except watch sports. When they’re at work, the topic of the day is usually everyone’s Fantasy Football League. (I always breathe a sigh of relief once the Super Bowl is over.)
Why is this a problem?
Here’s why: Because such men know little to nothing about politics, sociology, or religion – you know, the fundamental building blocks of a healthy community. The numbers vary based on exactly which statistic you look at, but the statistics all agree in one area: The number of ‘low information voters’ turning out for political elections is alarming. We basically have dimwits running our republic; they simply refuse to put in the time necessary to educate themselves on the issues of the day.
Yes, a lot of these people are just plain stupid by nature. (As Winston Churchill was supposed to have said, the best argument against self-rule is a fifteen-minute conversation with your average voter.) But how many of those know-nothing voters – whose ignorant choices influence government – can tell you what Tom Brady’s stats from last football season were? How many of those voters, I wonder, made their foolish decisions at the polls because they were too busy memorizing Tom Brady’s stats to research the candidates?
Men were meant to lead families and so create a stable world in which women and children can thrive. Being glued to a digital sports feed 24/7 doesn’t serve that end, and the epidemic is worse now than it ever was. In addition to television, newspaper, and radio – the old methods of providing a ‘fix’ to sports addicts – now everybody and his uncle is carrying a ‘smart’ phone with a high-speed data plan.
And it’s very easy to tell the sports addict from the casual sports fan: Just try talking to him about anything else except sports. Not even a deer in the headlights looks that confused!
But let’s look beyond the individual for a moment. What does sports addiction do to families? Obviously, it creates pseudo-absentee fathers. But it has even more devastating effects on children, education, and civic finances.
Sports addicts tend to aggressively push their kids into athletic programs. This is a terrible thing in a world where – with two working parents, day care, after-school programs, etc. – children have very, very little ‘down time’. Sports just add an extra layer of stress and commitment to modern life, and this is a serious problem. It’s a problem because in order for a child to grow into a smart, well-rounded, intelligent adult, he or she must have a certain amount of un-allocated time in which to explore his or her own interests. What good does it do Junior to score fifty goals in the hockey championship if he grows up to be a boring dunce?
It was also very frustrating to me, as a minister, to see how many families often skipped church because ‘Junior had a baseball tournament’. What exactly are we teaching our children about priorities, here? Jesus is only important if there doesn’t happen to be a ball game?
Our school system is part of the problem, not the solution. Sports do not qualify as ‘education’! A traditional western education, historically, was deeply rooted in the arts. But this became a hindrance in America and Europe, where our governments have become increasingly socialistic; it’s easier to foist socialism onto a dumbed-down society than a well-educated one. Sports teach group-think and mindless conformity; the arts teach individual creativity and innovation. Intellect is the enemy of socialism, and thus arts programs are scuttled and under-funded in favor of sports programs.
Over-funding school sports is also an incredible waste of taxpayer money. At my local university, the college built a new research building for its science program. The building was small, with a modest construction budget. The building’s purpose? Oh, you know… just doing agricultural research so we can do a better job of feeding the world. No big deal.
That selfsame school built a new athletic complex shortly thereafter. It’s the second largest building in the city, and it came with a price tag that was nearly nine figures.
How do I know this? I helped build both the research building and the athletic complex! I was on and off the research project in a matter of months…
But the athletic complex took two and a half YEARS!
About the same time that the athletic complex was being built, our city passed a ninety million dollar school-bond referendum. Property taxes and ‘special assessments’ (a predatory, capricious tax unique to the American Midwest) went through the roof. This money was all supposed to be used for ‘educational purposes’.
Guess what? Half the money went for sports-related expenditures, the most notable being a huge hockey arena. Think about that: Homeowners were jacked tens of millions to fund Junior chasing around a hockey puck.
To make matters worse, school sports programs are damaging the career prospects of students, particularly boys. I had an apprentice recently who was a promising worker, but he had to quit his trade because his shoulder was too severely injured from playing high-school football. How many talented tradesmen, I wonder, have we whittled out of the workforce by crippling them before they even got started? Only one percent of college athletes become professionals, and I’m betting we injure way more than one percent badly enough to impact their career choices. Over the years I’ve gotten apprentices with bad shoulders, knees, and backs due to sports injuries; many of them were forced to change careers because of their handicaps.
All of these factors combine to create a less stable society rather than a more stable society. Sports-addled dads don’t pay attention to their kids, and kids don’t have the down time they need to develop versatile intellects. Churches – which, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out, are the backbone of American greatness – are suffering ever-decreasing attendance. Citizens are over-taxed to pay for programs that have nothing to do with education, and our government is populated with second-rate incompetents – elected, in part, by men who understand nothing about politics except the propaganda commercials they saw during ‘the game’.
An empire loves nothing more than citizens who are too dumb to notice their own government’s malfeasance; as Rome and Greece were, so is America. History always repeats itself, and this is not the first time that sports have been used to ‘dumb down’ a society, or to amuse it into complacence; Rome and Greece did the same thing, so much so that their respective social fabrics tore completely apart.
When Greece fell, its collapse ushered in the rise of Rome – the most brutal empire in human history.
When Rome fell, it caused a power vacuum that led to a thousand years of savage feudalism.
Wanna avoid the next Dark Age?
Read a book sometime. Listen to music once in a while, instead of some yahoo re-hashing how awesome so-and-so’s ‘home run’ was yesterday. Give your kids some free time, and tell ‘em that a sport is off-limits if it would cause them to miss three Sundays out of four.
I’m honestly not saying that sports aren’t fun once in a while; I’m just pointing out the need for balance. It’s not about the activity; it’s about indulging in it to the point of excess.
You addicts KNOW who you are!
And ironically, it’s almost certain that none of you are actually reading this…