The Proper Place of Sports in Society

ESPN is worth forty billion dollars, making it by far the most valuable media property in existence.  And it seems clear why the business model is working: an overwhelming majority of sports are watched live, cutting against an increasing trend among the viewing public to watch shows on delay, or online.  And so ESPN has ballooned as other stations shrink, to the mind-boggling extent that now ESPN earns one out of every four dollars earned by cable stations in AmericaScreen Shot 2013-06-28 at 11.58.05 AM.png

But it isn’t just the sports media that’s raking it in: John Henry, former steel-driver, and owner of the World Series-bound Red Sox, just bought the Boston Globe, the paper responsible for covering his team (presumably on the strength of sales of those pink ladies Red Sox hats popping up all over the country).  And he bought the Globe for 70 million, a pittance compared to the 1.1 billion the NY Times paid in 1993.

All of which is to say that sports, in yours, truly’s opinion, have become way too big a deal.  ESPN deserves some blame, but sports themselves can’t be the problem, right?  It has to be us, with our desperate yearning for voyeuristic escape, whether through watching LeBron or WOWing.  But why would people want to watch a game they themselves do not and did not play themselves?  By way of example: why do so many more people, women especially, but also scrawny hipsters, seem to watch football than they used to?

And speaking of football, 64% of Americans watch.  That means that more than 200 million different Americans watched a football game last year.  To cherry-pick a statistic from 2011: 23 of the top 25 televised programs of the fall season were football games.

And that’s just the games.

Sports are, by design, accessible to watch.  There is little reason for talking-heads to break down, in mind-numbingly repetitive detail, the goings-on of a sports match after the fact.  That’s why they keep score—and narrate, along the way.  One of the many beautiful aspects of sports is that excepting Russian- or Chinese-judged Olympic events, they tend to be measurable, like Facebook Friends.  Or as Mark Edmundson puts it:  “One of the joys of sports lies in knowing who you are and where you are and what you have to do to ascend.”  That’s a positive concept that suits any merit-based American, and its this demonstrable and inarguable aspect of sport that has proven historically to be an equalizer.

None of which excuses the watching of people talking about sports, which has got to be one of the lamest uses of time available.  Why do we need a 24/7 sports news network at all?  (And now of course they’ve multiplied like weevils).

And these complaints are lodged by a person who likes and watches sports, a person whose longest-held ambition was professional baseball player, an ambition he has only recently and reluctantly abandoned, and which disappointment he hoped to partially alleviate with the tangential fallback of sports journalism, but which fallback cannot honorably be pursued upon consideration of the ambulance-chasing ethic of the industry.  So there’s some real bitterness here–not that yrs., truly doesn’t get to be a professional athlete, but that he doesn’t even get to follow the games anymore without some hack reporters trying to stir up a story unworthy of the name.  Isn’t sports supposed to be glorious?  Instead of following the games, we breathlessly hop from substance-abuse to molestation to an athlete’s petulant demand to be traded to The Dog Catcher to The Decision to child abuse.  Maybe this is what Homer intended when he sang of the Rage of Achilles.  Or maybe it can all be traced back to the Juice.  Regardless, yours, truly gets enough of all this crap from politics.


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