PRIORITIES

So far I've avoided the Penn State child molestation story and the new, less widely reported allegations that a Syracuse University basketball coach Bernie Fine (who was fired on Monday) molested young boys as well. In the latter case, ESPN had a legally recorded tape of a phone conversation between a victim and the coach's wife in which they indicate mutual knowledge of the various acts of molestation that occurred. In a disturbing similarity to the Penn State case, ESPN received the tape in 2003 (!!!!) and reported it only this past weekend because they thought that the victim had already called the police and couldn't "verify the authenticity" of the tape. Seems like that might have been worth taking to the authorities anyway, guys. But let's not digress.

One particular part of the conversation between wife and victim is noteworthy in ESPN's partial transcript:

On the call, Laurie Fine told Davis (the victim) she'd already warned her husband that one day his alleged molestation of Davis might become public.

"I said to him, 'Bobby and I talked, and I know some things about you that if you keep pushing are going to be let out.' "

Davis continued: "He doesn't think he can be touched … "

Laurie Fine: "No … he thinks he's above the law."

The idea of being untouchable is prominent throughout the events at Penn State as well – that being a coach at a big time college sports program provides lofty social status. Honestly, that is a sadder commentary on our society, and higher education in particular, than even the acts these men committed. None of us are naive enough to deny that people in positions of power are treated differently. Things they do that might get them in trouble can sometimes be swept under rugs because other powerful people will help them. This is part of the way the world works. Life isn't fair, etc.

What's pathetic is that assistant coaches at college sports programs fall into this category of social elites who wield special powers. It makes sense, for example, that the governor or a judge or a billionaire are likely to get Special Treatment from the law. They have actual power. Bernie Fine or Jerry Sandusky, conversely, are college assistant coaches. College sports could cease to exist tomorrow and the collective impact on society would be nil, other than adding more people to the unemployment rolls. What these men do is not important. At all. It might be fun. It might be entertaining. It might boost school spirit or whatever excuses athletic departments use to justify their existence. Sure. But college football and basketball are not important.

It's sad that we place such a disproportionate emphasis on sports and athletes in our society that these men can get out of a speeding ticket let alone avoid prosecution for felonies. The appropriate response to a statement such as "Well I'm a coach for Penn State!" would ideally be "Who gives a shit?" Instead, such people are treated with deference once reserved for heads of state and robber barons. Because, like, the Nittany Lions! Joe Paterno! OMG!

Oh, by the way: don't get all high and mighty on us, non-Americans. We've seen how you treat your soccer players.

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63 Responses to “PRIORITIES”

  1. HoosierPoli Says:

    Hey, at least Penn State's football program made money for their school. Lots of athletic departments are just to increase "brand" recognition for the school and are actually multimillion-dollar money pits.

  2. DocAmazing Says:

    Yes, the scratch that Joe Paterno hauled in directly pays for Michael Berube's position. Not all that ironic.

  3. HoosierPoli Says:

    "We've seen how you treat your soccer players."

    I've noticed a strong fondness for throwing lit road flares at them. I'm surprised they haven't picked that up in Philly yet.

  4. Neal Deesit Says:

    A variation on the end of your fourth paragraph: Hedge funds could cease to exist tomorrow and the collective impact on society would be nil, other than adding more people to the unemployment rolls. What these men do is not important. At all. It might be fun. It might be entertaining. It might boost wealthy people's incomes or whatever excuses the .1% uses to justify their existence. Sure. But hedge funds are not important.

    A variation on the old punch line, ""We’ve already settled what kind of justice system you are. Now we’re just arguing about the price of impunity."

  5. Middle Seaman Says:

    DocAmazing says: "…Joe Paterno hauled in directly pays for Michael Berube's position. Not all that ironic." That is simply wrong. Penn State is one of the top receivers of grants from the government and the military. We are talking about heavy millions. I could do without Berube, who in 2008 wrote a post raping Hillary character and exulting Obama's abilities, a sign of a genius.

    The post itself makes a bizarre point. "[S]uch people are treated with deference once reserved for heads of state and robber barons." That was always the case. Our financial is 90% "Who gives a shit?" 2/3 of our military is not needed except for starting losing wars by losers such as Bush and Obama. Our health care insurance "could cease to exist tomorrow and the collective impact on society would be nil." The government does health care better.

    In an ironic twist, Penn State is entitled to molest kids the way banks are entitle to abuse us, health care insurance companies to enslave us and military needs are mostly the world highest fatal stupidity that sucks our blood through taxes. And Berube is his beautiful writing is entitled to his character murder of his choice.

  6. Elle Says:

    Oh, by the way: don't get all high and mighty on us, non-Americans. We've seen how you treat your soccer players.

    Have no fear. Very similar situations have played out at UK football clubs, and there are rumours that at least one top-flight manager is being shielded from the consequences of an unhealthy and felonious interest in the youth programme. Some of the players are extremely young: Real Madrid signed papers with a 7 year old from Brazil in August.

    If you're good at football, then it doesn't matter if you beat your wife bloody. BBC One will carry your funeral live, with only an apologetic, passing reference to the 'dark demons' that you had to fight, and you will have an airport named after you.

    None of us are naive enough to deny that people in positions of power are treated differently.

    No, and the obvious parallel with Penn State et al is the still unfolding child abuse tragedy in the Catholic Church. Although different in scope, the fundamental sense of being above the law is there in spades. If anyone is interested in a documentary recommendation, I thought Amy Berg's Deliver Us From Evil was fantastic. The recordings of depositions of bishops involved in covering up the actions of a predatory priest were particularly interesting.

  7. Talisker Says:

    I can't help thinking of the following (approximate) dialogue from Gladiator:
    MAXIMUS: I am a slave, with only the power to amuse a mob!
    LUCILLA: That *is* power.

    By themselves, the Penn State coaches are not terribly powerful. But they enable an entertainment industry which is (a) very profitable, and (b) helps distract us from all the bad shit that's going on. Would the residents of East Berlin have been so strongly inclined to tear down the wall if they had XBox and high-definition sports?

    In general, the really powerful people are not terribly zealous about punishing entertainment figures. Taking another example, Hollywood and the music industry seem to be largely exempt from the War on Drugs.

    Finally, never underestimate the power of blind devotion to your preferred entertainer — see also Michael Jackson and Roman Polanski.

  8. Owen Says:

    It's true, football (not "soccer" :P ) players in Europe, South America etc are ridiculously feted and overpaid. Butit is at least restricted to those who play for professional teams, not a bunch of university students – the captain of Manchester United might get out of the odd speeding ticket (and worse, if the tabloid rumours are to be believed), but the coach of the local University's footy team? Not so much.

  9. Talisker Says:

    @Owen: This is an oddity of the American football system. There are 32 teams in the NFL, and college teams are effectively the next level down — the very rough equivalent of an English First Division club. That said, the American football market is *much* bigger than that for English footy, and in terms of money and viewing figures many American college teams would be comparable to most Premiership clubs.

    In short, college football is a big deal in a way that's totally different to any college/university sport in the UK.

  10. Talisker Says:

    @Owen again: If it helps, the geographic and financial scale of the NFL is more closely comparable to the UEFA Champions League than to the English Premiership.

  11. anotherbozo Says:

    "Would the residents of East Berlin have been so strongly inclined to tear down the wall if they had XBox and high-definition sports?"

    Talisker gets it. There is a clear interconnection between the passive citizenry of this country and the entertainment (sports, movies, TV etc.) industry. The 1% needs us to be anesthetized, else how could they continue robbing us in broad daylight? We get yachts and mansions, you get "Dancing with the Stars" and the NFL playoffs. And Penn State football.

    Should we credit the 1% with this degree of intelligence, so as to make an almost perfectly vicious circle? Are our entertainment corporations so consciously in collusion with the other corporations who run the gubment? Or are they merely the parasites to feed off an already fallen beast and speed its demise? A worthy subject for later discussion; but it may be moot. To find another metaphor, the system has evolved an almost perfect symbiosis between the anesthesiology department and the organ thievery division.

  12. c u n d gulag Says:

    anotherbozo,
    What worked, and will continue to work, is "Bread and Circuses."

    Today, people have plenty of the latter, but less and less of the former.

    'Circuses' might not have anywhere near their appeal if there's no 'bread' for the masses.
    And, harking back to the prior post, hence the para-militarization of our police forces – because you can't eat 'circuses.'
    So someone's going to have to maintain order to keep the people in the top few percentage points safe from the ever hungrier masses searching for the ever diminishing amounts of bread.
    And don't even get me started on the coming problems with potable water. that's a subject for yet another day.

  13. TheStone Says:

    I couldn't agree more with the sentiment of this post.
    And I'm a former assistant college football coach.

  14. Tteddo Says:

    If anyone's interested This American Life did a recent recap of an old episode on Penn State: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/451/back-to-penn-state.

  15. deep cap Says:

    And while students are getting pepper sprayed in UC Davis, student at Penn State are rioting over their precious coach.

    WTF is wrong with people??

  16. Sarah Says:

    Coincidentally, the local news coming down the pike is that the Jaguars coach just got fired. This news has been reported with breathless urgency, complete with breaking news interruptions, for the past hour or so, and I expect it will dominate local news for at least a week. Blech.

  17. Chris Says:

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/nations-10yearold-boys-if-you-see-someone-raping-u,26724/

  18. Arslan Says:

    First of all, what deep cap said, definitely. With all the headlines about Occupy protests when I saw that story about the riot at Penn State it was one of those "wait, WUT?" moments.

    Second, this is yet another reason why I see higher education as little more than a money making scam.

    Lastly: Soccer was a term derived from the official term Association Football; it's origin is in England, and the term was often used interchangeably with football in the UK.

  19. Da Moose Says:

    This trend in American society is inextricably linked to the authoritarian attribute you noted in a recent column. I'm waiting for you to link that authoritarian trait to the South (and rural America) and then your eyes will be finally and completely opened to the full makeup of our current cultural poison in America. It is not a coincidence that the South loves football, BTW.

  20. acer Says:

    @Talisker:
    Hollywood is certainly more ridiculous – recall the free ride given to Charlie Sheen, though recidivist domestic violence and sustaining the Colombian economy through cocaine use, until he dared to take public snaps at his supervisors.

    But as a college professor and unapologetic sports buff, this is closer to Ed's wheelhouse. Even before this post, I drew from his earlier observations about college sports programs when debating the Penn State flap with friends. I think this is one of the most interesting anchor topics at G&T, along with the militarization of cops. And the doo-doo jokes.

  21. Elle Says:

    @Arslan, with apologies for the threadjack.

    Lastly: Soccer was a term derived from the official term Association Football; it's origin is in England, and the term was often used interchangeably with football in the UK.

    Never in my life have I heard a UK citizen refer to football as 'soccer', save in two circumstances:

    1. Speaking to someone non-native, in a bid to clarify that the subject at hand was not rugby, American football, or Australian rules football; or
    2. Mocking the perceived US-centrism in the portrayal of American sports to a domestic market. (See also: 'World series'.)

    At my rugby-playing (high) school, football was occasionally referred to as 'footer', but I think even that is vanishingly rare.

  22. Arslan Says:

    Age might be an issue. Calling it soccer went out of fashion some decades ago, but the term originates in England.

  23. Elle Says:

    Age might be an issue. Calling it soccer went out of fashion some decades ago, but the term originates in England.

    Yes, Britain invented a number of things it deprecates the use of in others.

    The subject of footballing nomenclature is dear to Britain's heart, though. None of the home nations teams are very (any?) good, but the symbolic weight of being the original architects of the game resonates through British (chiefly English) public discourse in a way that's hard to understand for people who are from, or live, in other places.

    Pushing back against the term 'soccer' is cheeky shorthand for: 'We might be shit at it in a way that makes us cry beerily in the pub once every four years, but it's our game, foreigner(s). So goes our overpriced replica shirts and tacky plasticky national flag bunting, so goes our nation.'

  24. nick Says:

    This is one of my favorite blogs, but this post is FAIL. The fact of the matter is, is that college sports do matter, like, a lot. The South, small college towns, these places THRIVE on college athletics. Literally, whole communities rally around one school or another. If college sports ceased to exist, besides the cratering of countless local economies, and untold hardship upon millions of people, there would be a sense of dread and emptiness not seen since the great depression. (I'm not kidding.)

    Sandusky and Fine were monsters, the people who covered for them are beyond scumbags, but the potshots on college athletics for being "nothing", is so off point. I'm actually kind of surprised this was actually written by some one who works at an SEC school.

  25. bb in GA Says:

    What nick said…

    However, it is truly ironic that we in the South are the most ardently Christian part of our Nation and yet we continue to flout the warning against idolatry so evident throughout our Bible.

    Any humanitarian efforts that spring out of our football idolatry are just secondary.

    //bb

  26. John T. Mickevich Says:

    @Nick — I think it says something about the "South" and "small college towns" thrive on Football and not, let's say, anything that requires an education (you know, what colleges are supposed to be for). If your town's entire identity is rooted in the local sports team, be it college or high school, then you live in a very sad town indeed.

    I'll be happy when the average American kid can't name the captain of his high school football team and there are cheerleaders for the kids in the Chess Club.

  27. JohnR Says:

    "..yet we continue to flout the warning against idolatry so evident throughout our Bible."'

    Don't sell youall's selves short, bb: youall flout a Hell of lot more than just that from the Bible. At a rough estimate, about 80% of the New Testament and somewhere on the order of 40% or more of the OT. I always figured that the widespread use of the self-descriptive term "Christians" was one more evidence of the sneaky sense of humor so endemic in the South ("Hey, it wasn't about slavery!")
    No offense intended, of course.

  28. acer Says:

    @Nick – Yeah, I think that needs to be deeply examined and questioned, as a culture and an industry. We can go further than scapegoating psychos like Sandusky and old-boy cowards like Paterno, or insisting that the fundamentals of the sports economy remain strong. We can rethink "college town" economies, seriously weigh athletics against academics, or look hard at the damage done to the people most directly involved. Like this poor bastard:

    http://www.laweekly.com/2010-09-30/news/chris-brymer-head-case/

    Penn State gave us an opportunity to do that, which has been largely ignored.

  29. nick Says:

    @John T.

    I don't understand all the hate for college athletics. It's just, well, weird. People around the world have different interests. But how many of them unite giant swaths of people? Pro sports are one thing. But college sports mean so much more because of the education connection. That kids who went there, did the same things you did. That my kids will hopefully one day go to my university (UCLA!!! See ya Rick!!!), that their kids might go there one day. It's the circle of life for Christ's sake. And if you're against the circle of life, you must be some sort of Nazi Muslim sympithizer with Communist tendancies.

  30. Major Kong Says:

    "we in the South are the most ardently Christian part of our Nation"

    Do Southerners ever get tired of patting themselves on the back for being from the South?

    That being said, "Christian" for a lot of people is more like a tribal membership or sports-team affiliation.

  31. Ellie Says:

    In "our" society, huh?

    There was a news story a while back about the highest-paid celebrity athlete in history. He wasn't an American. He wasn't even from this millennium.

    http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/roundtable/greatest-of-all-time.php

    According to a story in Lapham's Quarterly, the highest-paid athlete of all time was a 2nd Century AD Roman chariot racer named Gaius Appuleius Diocles. His winnings over a 24-year career are estimated to be the equivalent of something like $15 billion. As for education, he was illiterate. In fact, chariot racers tended to be drawn heavily from the lower and/or not-Roman classes. (Gaius himelf was of Spanish origin.) Athletic prowess was one of the few routes to serious social mobility. Just saying.

    Yes, I'm sure we can quibble over the accuracy of inflation-adjusted coinage over the course of the millennia, and to be fair, chariot racing was a far more dangerous activity than even the most dangerous professional sports today. But we're still talking super-duper rich. His enormous wealth and celebrity – and the wealth and celebrity of his fellow successful athletes – surely must have helped them get away with a great deal. By all accounts, chariot racers were quite the celebrities of their time.

    I will leave the imperial over-reach, end-of-empire, decline-and-fall, history-does-not-repeat-but-it-does-rhyme, and what-is-it-with-pederasty-and-rotting-empires-anyway? comments and analogies to others.

  32. anotherbozo Says:

    @ Ellie: ancient Rome, whence the term "bread and circuses," yes?

  33. Jason Says:

    @John T. Mickevich
    I went to a high school where nobody knew who the football captain was, and we had cheerleaders for the math team (the chess team wasn't competitive). But that was in a godless blue state.

  34. bb in GA Says:

    Major Kong:

    Your point about tribal affiliation is apt one. I wasn't being self congratulatory, merely descriptive of a what I believe is a fact.

    Please don't let your hatred of the South (which you have expressed before based on your direct experience) color every encounter with Southerners.

    That would be just as wrong for me to discount all Black folks because I have suffered direct racially motivated (and announced at the time) violence now wouldn't it?

    //bb

  35. Elle Says:

    I went to a high school where nobody knew who the football captain was, and we had cheerleaders for the math team (the chess team wasn't competitive). But that was in a godless blue state.

    How godless do you have to be before you can just go about your competitive business without the boost to esprit de corps provided by a girl in a short skirt?

  36. Major Kong Says:

    @bb

    I really don't hate the South. Well, OK, maybe Mississippi……

  37. Scepticus Says:

    I've always wondered what a "nittany lion" is, and now I know. It's one of those lions that fucks little boys up the ass.

    Frankly, I can't bring myself to cheer for that.

  38. Desargues Says:

    Oh, by the way: don't get all high and mighty on us, non-Americans. We've seen how you treat your soccer players….

    Possibly true, but irrelevant. Outside of professional soccer, as Owen has noted, soccer is a very small thing — and has none of the financial clout, industrial-size resources and manpower, relentless marketing, and heavily organized early recruitment (alas, sometimes literally) that goes on around here. When I grew up, the only kids who's enroll in the soccer club (itself a sorry, hopeless, financially-strapped affair) were the one or two boys with some actual talent and a bunch of losers who couldn't hold a book upright.

    There are no college scholarships for athletes in Europe. The mind-set is that, if you're an athlete, you either go for a specialize degree in some sports-related shit (and pay your way through it) or you go pro — early.

    The difference between the sports infrastructure in America and Europe is on a par with that in military hardware.

  39. Desargues Says:

    And, to this furriner, it's deeply demoralizing that there are so many pockets in America, supposedly a First World country (Land of the Free, yo!) where corn-fed wide boys chasing a ball is a populace's only reason to roll out of bed in the morning. Really fucking dispiriting. Here's a thought: put down the bible and the remote, and consider building a hopeful future in those shitholes where football's the only source of meaning.

  40. jazzbumpa Says:

    @ Elle -

    How godless do you have to be before you can just go about your competitive business without the boost to esprit de corps provided by a girl in a short skirt?

    Actually, godlessness is pretty much irrelevant in this context. Like it or not, there are few things on this planet that raise esprit de corps more or better than a girl in a short skirt.

    There is actually some symmetry with boys in uniform, I think . . .

    @ Nick -

    It isn't hating on college sports to point out that for the vast majority of colleges they are a huge money pit. They certainly do nothing to enhance actual education, and are, above all, a circus.

    The view of sports in southern towns (but certainly not limited to the south) you presented dramatically illustrates the social and intellectual poverty of the people who live in those dismal places.

    I'm an enthusiastic sports fan, at both the pro and college levels. But I also recognize that Sports, like dancing with the stars, or a TV soap opera is mindless escapism. That doesn't make it bad. It just makes it trivial. If that's all you have, then you are suffering in misery, and probably don't even know it.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  41. Elle Says:

    Like it or not, there are few things on this planet that raise esprit de corps more or better than a girl in a short skirt.

    There is actually some symmetry with boys in uniform, I think . . .

    And yet I've never seen an American movie, set in a high school, in which the girls' volleyball team was supported in its athletic endeavours by a collection of comely young uniformed men. Nor, cf. Friday Night Lights, does there seem to be a male equivalent to the Rally Girl, a school-sanctioned purveyor of blow jobs and snickerdoodles.

    I wonder why that could be.

  42. ladiesbane Says:

    It's not just about idolatry here. The same cycle of BS occurs whenever someone loved and trusted is accused of sexual abuse of children, or collaboration with abusers. Has everyone forgotten the initial spew of "No priest would ever do such a thing; those children are liars"? (Even some of those people never made it out of paradigm shift’s first gear: denial.)

    In this case, the disbelief is compounded by hero-worship, and this particular type of hero-worship runs very deep. Men particularly get far more worked up about sports than they do about much else, even church. At least I've never observed families having cookouts and spending Sundays (in season) getting drunk and waving their pennants from the College of Cardinals.

  43. Zebbidie Says:

    @ middle seaman

    Michael Berube is the holder of the Joe Paterno Chair. Joe Paterno's millions do indeed directly fund him.

  44. nick Says:

    @Jazzbumpa
    Did you just fucking compare Dancing with the Stars, and soap operas to sports? You've got to be kidding me.

    I still actively participate in sports. When I watch games, I'm constantly analyzing things. I'm not a passive viewer, but engaged.

    And seriously, it's complete disrespect comparing people who dedicate their entire lives for a pursuit (which you must do, to become a collegiate or pro athlete) to D-List celebrities learning to dance for a few weeks, and for a few bucks. It's not even fucking close.

  45. John T. Mickevich Says:

    @Nick
    But dedicate themselves to… what? A momentary competition that will be forgotten in a few weeks time? Maybe one out of a thousand sports events is something that stays with people, and even then, is it nearly as important as educating kids to be the next wave of scientists or engineers? Hell, just staying within entertainment – does it have the lasting power of a great symphony or film or novel?

    Spectator sports serve no purpose other than entertainment, and the crassest, most base form of entertainment at that. "Grrrunt – Him throw ball good, me cheer for him now!" Worse, they merely enhance tribalism and "Us V. Them." Red Sox Rule, Yankees Suck. CheeseHeads Vs. Whoever the CheeseHeads hate. Yeah, we don't have enough problems without the people of Denver hating people from Minnesota because of some meaningless athletic contest.

    And it's perfectly PERFECTLY comparable to dancing with the stars or American Idol or even garbage like the Kardashians. Our culture is not better because we have NFL stadiums and College Football. If anything, it's cheapened by it. Almost any other entertainment-based pursuit has SOME other outcome. Train for years to be a world-class violin player so you can fill the world with great music. Write thousands of pages so that you can give the world the great American novel. Study for years to become a great actor to evoke emotion and pathos with your performances. But sports? It's "learn football to be a good football player." So effing what.

    And if we can't encourage kids to be better people through some way other than "Throw this ball better than the other guy throws this ball" then our descent into anti-intellectual barbarism is complete.

    Like what you like, but understand that spectator sports are the biggest "guilty pleasure" in our culture, accepted as legitimate only by the sheer volume of money involved.

  46. Sarah Says:

    @John T. Mickevich, *applause*. I'd only add that it is a sad commentary on us as a species that *this* is what "brings people together"–not peace or knowledge or justice but COLLEGE SPORTS. I'll admit that I enjoy a good baseball game and I'll even cop to having jumped out of my seat and applauded at the sight of a home run that won a game in a reversal of fortune in the bottom of the 9th, but it doesn't go beyond that momentary enjoyment, and it certainly isn't as important as, say, service in the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders.

  47. Major Kong Says:

    @nick

    Just because someone devotes their entire life to throwing a ball – it's still just throwing a damn ball.

  48. nick Says:

    @John T. Mickevich
    Dedicate themselves to getting better at their given pursuit. Just because you think sports are lame, and anti-intellectual, does not make it so. And then you say they dedicate something that will be "forgotton in a weeks time." Nothing can be fucking further from the truth. I hit my first home run when I was 11, 20 years later I can remember every little detail of that night. That memory will stay with me till I die.

    And spectator sports surely have more value than "Crass entertaiment." Again, for fucks sake, sports BRING COMMUNITIES, FAMILIES, and FRIENDS TOGETHER. Passing down traditions from generation to generation. (Like I'm sure, our grandchildren will have fucking Kardashian and Dancing with the Stars memorabilia…..)There's a reason sports have been around since the dawn of time, its because they fucking rock.

    Look, I have kids. We read together, we sing together, we learn together, and guess what, we play sports together. It's fun, and it makes all of our lives better, (and healthier). And you can tell me what a giant waste of fucking time it is, but I have memories that will never vanish as long as I'm alive that says you are as wrong as fundamentals are with evolution.

    ps- If you don't think this is art, then you don't have a fucking clue what art is:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFxXSXGd4hs

  49. Major Kong Says:

    It's still just throwing a fucking ball.

    No matter what grandiose hyperbole you use to describe it, it's just a fucking ball.

  50. nick Says:

    @Kong
    And singing is just yelling with voice inflection. Fucking, is just two people rubbing together. Model U.N. is just a bunch of god damn nerds sitting in a circle. See how easy it is to simplify any action?

  51. Ken Says:

    Nick, could you clarify one thing. When you say that the town thrives on local athletics, and the economy would crater if it went away – surely you don't literally mean the entire town's only industry is the football game?

  52. Major Kong Says:

    @nick

    Just think for a moment about how (little) you care about, oh let's say cricket in the UK.

    Believe it or not, there are those of us that care equally little about major league baseball or college football. It's just not on my radar screen most of the time.

  53. Brandon Says:

    Major Kong: I don't think Nick was saying that you HAVE to care about sports to be a full member of the human species, he was simply responding to the argument that sports is a complete waste of time and that communities that rally around their local teams are indulging in some form of false consciousness and wasting their time. I don't see the relevance of your cricket reference. I'm guessing nick's response would be that, no, I personally don't care for cricket, but good for those people who do like it and support their team.

    I get the critiques, and I would probably take a middle position between nick and his critics. I grew up in a small Midwestern town where high school sports probably took on way more significance than was merited, and I went to a large Big Ten university. So yeah, sports has an outsized role in our society. Then again, when the townspeople gathered to watch the football team on Friday nights, it's not as if the only activity they engaged in was watching the game. They chatted with neighbors, asked about their problems, their kids, discussed local issues, etc. There was some definite social capital being built.

    Would it be nice if Shakespeare festivals assumed the role of weekly football matches in bringing people together? Sure. But your broad critique of sports and those who enjoy it is a critique of the human species. The fact that societies throughout human history have engaged in some version of "throwing a fucking ball," as you put it, must indicate that such activities are of some value to a great many people.

  54. Talisker Says:

    I took an interest in sports later in life, having spent my early years as the stereotypical anti-sports nerd… but I think those saying sports have no value are dead wrong. I say they are a legitimate art form.

    Seeing an athlete accomplish something at the limits of human performance has an intrinsic value. Man runs 100m in a straight line? Boring. Usain Bolt breaks the world record? Impressive. And a guy on a motorbike could beat him easily, but that doesn't detract from Bolt's talent and dedication.

    Will a sports event endure for the ages? Maybe not, but that's not the point. It's a live performance. If I go see a band live, it won't be as note-perfect as the album versions, and it probably won't be preserved forever as an example of their greatest work, but so what?

    Sports have teamwork, tactics, and psychology in a competitive contest. Will one team's morale break? If they screw up royally in the first half, can they come back in the second to win? This can have all the narrative drama of a good film or novel, all the more so because it's live and you *can't skip to the end*.

    I know it's purely arbitrary that person X decides to support team Y, at best it's an accident of where you were born or went to school. Any sports fan who doesn't grasp this is frankly delusional, but it's still fun to support a team. Yeah, sometimes emotions get out of hand and the fans riot, but that's the exception. In my experience, fans of opposing teams in the same workplace/family can get along just fine, with a bit of mild teasing after the game.

    You can argue about whether sports constitute "high art", or whether they're more or less valuable than other art forms, but this seems pointless to me — it's like complaining because a novel doesn't have illustrations or a painting doesn't have a soundtrack. If watching sports events doesn't appeal to you then that's fine, but recognise that it's a difference of personal taste, not substance.

  55. nick Says:

    Thank you, @Brandon, @Talisker You guys get it. And Cricket fucking rules by the way.

  56. Aaron Schroeder Says:

    I'm sort of surprised that anyone posing as the defender of the intellectual-educated-blue-state-ism or whatever, like Sarah and John Mickevich, would claim that games like football and baseball are anti-intellectual. Of course, it's less surprising when the examples John cites of those who'd watch athletics are the worst ones. Talk about ad hominem and straw-manning. Go read Michael Lewis's "Moneyball," or talk to the Harvard statisticians working for the Red Sox, and then try to defend your claim that sports are somehow anti-intellectual.

    One can do the same thing with supposedly high-art, as well. I attended a performance of "A Masqued Ball" at Chicago's Lyric Opera last year, and while waiting for her coat, the most that this elegantly-dressed, well-spoken woman could summon about the performance before complaining about the length of the cab line was, "Well, the main character – what was his name? – I suppose he died well, didn't he?" For all her wealth and sophistication: what a fool she was. And how pointless is the love of opera, and pretentious are those who'd pursue it. Right?

    There's a great line in the West Wing that describes the phenomenon John, and others here, have exemplified. Ainsley Hayes: "While [all that about guns] may be true, your gun control position doesn't have anything to do with public safety, and it's certainly not about personal freedom. It's about, you don't like people who do like guns. You don't like the people. Think about that the next time you make a joke about the South."

  57. Aaron Schroeder Says:

    I'm sort of surprised that anyone posing as the defender of the intellectual-educated-blue-state-ism or whatever, like Sarah and John Mickevich, would claim that games like football and baseball are anti-intellectual. Of course, it's less surprising when the examples John cites of those who'd watch athletics are the worst ones. Talk about ad hominem and straw-manning. Go read Michael Lewis's "Moneyball," or talk to the Harvard statisticians working for the Red Sox, and then try to defend your claim that sports are somehow anti-intellectual.

    You do the same thing to supposedly high-art, as well. I attended a performance of "A Masqued Ball" at Chicago's Lyric Opera last year, and while waiting for her coat, the most that this elegantly-dressed, well-spoken woman could summon about the performance before complaining about the length of the cab line was, "Well, the main character – what was his name? – I suppose he died well, didn't he?" For all her wealth and sophistication: what a fool she was. And how pointless is the love of opera, and pretentious are those who'd pursue it. Right?

    There's a great line in the West Wing that describes the phenomenon John, and others here, have exemplified. Ainsley Hayes: "While [all that about guns] may be true, your gun control position doesn't have anything to do with public safety, and it's certainly not about personal freedom. It's about, you don't like people who do like guns. You don't like the people. Think about that the next time you make a joke about the South."

  58. Aaron Schroeder Says:

    Ugh, sorry for the duplication.

  59. Brandon Says:

    Aaron, that was such a bravo post, I was happy to read it twice :-)