Why Hate Sports?

By Rob Patterson

“I hate sports.” I finally heard that line one too many times recently, and all too many times over my years from people who consider themselves liberal and progressive. In the past, when I was younger, stupider and far less liberal, I may have even uttered something not all that far from such inanity.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t spend time in front of the TV watching sporting events or going to see them in person. Not that I wouldn’t. I actually regret missing this year’s Super Bowl, as I was told it was an exciting contest (as opposed to the traditional trope that the Super Bowl is always boring). And if I had an opportunity to go or was asked by a date or friend to see the local university football team or the area minor league hockey and baseball teams—or for that matter the very active roller derby leagues in my area—I’d gladly do it. After all, it’s entertainment.

For my own sporting pleasure, I like swimming, sailing, riding bikes or horses—more towards solitary than team sports, the one of which I’ve probably played the most is volleyball. I sort of follow the New York Yankees because they had a farm team in my hometown when I was a kid, the first major league baseball game I attended was at Yankee Stadium, and I used to go see the Yanks play maybe once or twice a year when I lived in New York City. In college I liked going to our football and hockey games, and occasionally basketball too. And watching thoroughbreds run, especially when I have a bet on one, is a gas in my book. But I am anything but a big-time team sports fan.

Nonetheless, the wholesale rejection of sports I hear far too often strikes me in a bad way. And such a statement is the antithesis of being liberal (if that statement confuses you, look up the definition of the word). Yes, there are things about some sports—most often the more violent aspects of football, hockey and boxing—that can seem objectionable to a progressive sensibility. But wholesale rejection of the very notion of sports strikes me as closed-minded and small-minded and regressive not progressive.

Sure, NASCAR is noisy and polluting. “Professional wrestling” and monster truck rallies aren’t my idea of sports. Yes, dog-fighting and cock-fighting are barbaric and not sports. And gee, what do you know? Football and boxing do have elements of aggression and violence (as do all humans, by the way). But I also think that Congress has way more important things to do than quiz Roger Clemens on steroid use.

As best I can ascertain from my college anthropology studies, sports are a close to universal phenomenon. Yes, they can build character, and yes, they can also create negative mob behavior and individual violence, though that has at least as much to do with the society at large and individuals as the sport itself. But sports do reflect essential truths about mankind and society, and more good than bad, I reckon. And they can be engaging and exciting entertainment, even when they are not one’s cup of tea.

And though I’m not any kind of sports fan or follower, and can’t even recall the last time I saw a boxing match, the boxing scenes in “Raging Bull” have an almost balletic beauty to me. And the recent HBO documentary on Joe Louis is a fascinating story, as I also feel about such other HBO sports documentaries—one of the cable channel’s genuine areas of excellence—as one I recently watched about the triumphs of the underdog Oakland football Raiders and baseball A’s in the 1970s and another about the longstanding football rivalry between Ohio State and the University of Michigan. And I love reading about baseball and feel that the sport has inspired much great American writing.

The wholesale rejection or condemnation of sports like the statement I start with above, almost always heard from people on the left, strikes me as indicative of so-called liberalism that really isn’t liberal, i.e. accepting of others and what they think, feel, like and enjoy, and yes, within limits (I like the old definition of freedom in America to swing my fist only so far as it doesn’t hit another’s nose). Don’t like sports? Don’t participate or consume them. But to hate sports is to hate mankind, in a way, and such a statement smacks of the sometimes narrow, prejudiced and even, yes, sometimes totalitarian mind sets that is to me one of the great failures of American leftists and progressives.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@io.com.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2008

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