A few weeks ago I was leafing through a book by one of my favorite philosophers when I came across an interesting passage. It was talking about personal development and evolution towards enlightenment, and commented on the fact that one of the biggest obstacles to that kind of personal development was participation in organized sports. It struck me as an odd, random comment, especially considering that the book was published in the 1950s. I gave a lot of thought to that comment, and wondered how I might address it in this blog, but I couldn’t really find a tactful way to do it. I wasn’t sure exactly what the comment meant or whether I agreed with it.
I wasn’t sure whether it meant playing organized sports or following it as a fan. I look at kids playing sports and see the development of team spirit and self control. But I also see competitiveness and a preoccupation with what really amounts to trivial matters. I see kids getting up at 4:00 a.m. in the morning or spending a weekend on a road trip, but unable to commit to a neighborhood environmental program or read a book. The fans, on the other hand tend to have that territorial competitiveness and fanaticism, without any possible benefits of actually participating. Their situation is a little more cut and dry.
Last night’s riots in Vancouver are a case in point. You see it all the time, especially in European soccer matches. Sporting events might easily be called the opiate of the masses, a distraction to give people something to talk about rather than having to face real, important topics of conversation, or to avoid having the need for awkward introspection. Certainly the riots were an expression of the worst element of this and not all fans would respond so violently. But that comment in the philosophy book clings to me as I look at the trivial distraction and the downright fanaticism which is engendered by team sports events. How many people sit around watching one mundane sports event after another on beautiful Sunday afternoons, at a time when authentic quality time with family, friends or even self would be far more productive? Sports events, both watching them and participating in them, are capable of eating up huge blocks of time.
I know I come across as an anti-sports nerd. My parents never pushed me into any organized sports as I was growing up. I never showed any interest and I still don’t. And I know that if I say that this lack of interest has freed up a lifetime of time to do other, more important things, sports fans will say that this is a subjective view on my part.
Who am I to decide what is “important”? I may be wrong, but I think that authentic, quality time doing anything is better than planting your ass to watch a hockey, football or even golf match. And the kind of emotional involvement and expression that led to the riots after Vancouver lost the Stanley Cup is just beyond understanding. Are their lives so meager that they nothing more important to get excited about?