This post is for all you haters out there (you know who you are!) who mock otherwise-intelligent people like me for being sports fans. My colleagues in academia are often baffled when they find out that I follow sports. Part of this surprise is a form of classism: sports fandom is seen as blue collar, and thus uneducated, and so why would I want to sit in the stands with all of those Republican drones? (Ooh, see what I just did there? Republican=uneducated.) But most of this surprise stems from some legitimate critiques of sports that I generally agree with. Here are three examples:
1. Professional athletes are way, way overpaid.
This is absolutely the case. There is no way to justify anyone making millions of dollars a year at any activity (not just sports) while issues of hunger and homelessness still exist in the United States. My fondness for sports does not preclude me from also having a fondness for Marx.
2. Collegiate athletics are both exploitative of their athletes and an insult to the educational mission of colleges and universities.
As someone who teaches in an underfunded field, English, I agree with this point. NCAA Division I athletics (and oftentimes athletic programs in lower divisions as well) are a travesty. There is so much wrong with them that I can’t even begin to untangle the mess here. I would be happy if all schools stopped giving athletic scholarships and actually put the emphasis in “student-athlete” back on “student.”
3. Sports are just a game. They aren’t like other leisure activities such as reading that also have societal/political significance. It is a waste of energy to care about them.
This is somewhat of true. A great example of grownups seeming to care way too much about sports occurred this past weekend during the final day of the English Premier League as the championship fight between Manchester United and Manchester City went down to (almost literally) the last second (here’s an excellent recap of what was at stake and what happened by Chris Ryan http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7927466/today-gonna-day, and here are two photos of grownup fans seeming to care too much http://guyism.com/sports/manchester-city-wins-epl-championship-in-dramatic-comeback.html). I didn’t cry after those fuckers City won the title, but sports has moved me to tears on more occasions than I would like to admit. Every time I watch a game and my team loses, I am put into a bad mood for the rest of the day and curse myself for caring. I know that my teams will bring me inconsistent joy at best (though when this joy does come along it is better than the pain), whereas if I had spent those two or three hours reading a book I would be happy and smarter, and it is for this reason that this blog will primarily focus on literature.
Nevertheless, I continue to follow sports because they, like literature, help me to feel part of something bigger than myself. (The dichotomy between sports and literature that I’ve implicitly set up here is, of course, a false one, as they share many features. One of the reasons I like sports is because they offer me another kind of narrative: an inning, a game, a season, the history of a franchise….) Sports create community, and that is significant. Some reporters estimated that over six hundred million watched the Manchester derby between United and City at the end of April (I, too, was watching). It was a really neat feeling to be a part of something together with just under a tenth of the entire world. As a scholar, it is clear that I should care about an event that affects so many people.
On a smaller scale, sports connects me to my original geographic community, New York City. Whenever I see someone wearing a Mets hat, a connection, however small, is made, just like a connection is made when I see a stranger reading one of my favorite books at a coffeehouse.