Yesterday, of course, was Superbowl Sunday. As usual, I did my best to tune the event out, and, as usual, I did not succeed. The (then) upcoming event was plastered all over my Washington Post. When I hit the gym in the afternoon yesterday, the staff at the front desk of my Gold’s Gym (who controls dozens of TV sets across the building) spent most of their time frantically flipping through the channels trying to find free Superbowl pre-game coverage. For fifteen minutes or so, they settled on Comedy Central’s censored version of the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and then they could not stand it anymore. Off they went in another frantic search for Superbowl coverage. And so it continued until 90 minutes later when I left the gym. They were likely still frantically flipping channels after I left.
Of course, you could not surf the online news without getting the latest details of this national sporting event. Hundreds of Iraqis may be dying in grisly suicide bombings, but no matter. On Superbowl Sunday, that stuff was unimportant. It was much more relevant to the world that I be informed that the Colts were ahead of the Bears in the third quarter.
Seriously, I have no objection to sports, if that is what trips your trigger. Hmm, perhaps I should qualify my statement. I have no objection to most sports. I do draw the line at a few, really objectionable sports like bullfighting, competitive eating and boxing. If I were God, they would all be outlawed. However, during Superbowl season, I feel a bit like a Jew on Christmas. Try as you might, there is no escape from the hype and crass commercialism surrounding the Superbowl. Perhaps you can spend the day reading a book in your closet with your ears firmly plugged with wax or with music blaring through a headset. However, the Superbowl will still find you. You are likely to hear the neighbors next door cheer or feel the thumping through the ceiling from the guy in the upstairs apartment whenever his team is having some success. Please! Make it go away!
Nevertheless, unless you leave the country will not succeed in ignoring the Superbowl. It will find you. Moreover, if you do leave the country, then it will be some other sport that will drive you insane. We happened to be visiting Paris last summer during the World Cup finals. France just happened to be one of the final teams. Needless to say, Paris went berserk. The roads were overtaken by flag waving football fanatics. Except for the restaurants, everything closed down during the final game itself. I pitied the fool who needed emergency medicine in Paris during last year’s World Cup. They would have bled to death on the sidewalk in front of the hospital. We were left to watching the game on TV in our hotel room because except for CNN International (which repeats itself every half hour) there was nothing else on.
However, at least the World Cup is held only once every four years. In addition, it is a truly global competition. Our “World Series” would be an entirely national event if the Toronto Blue Jays were not in the league. Needless to say, no baseball teams from Japan or the Dominican Republic were invited to play. Similarly, our Superbowl is not that super: a purely national event that, like most competitive sports, means absolutely nothing. I mean it is not as if the members of the Indianapolis Colts are actually from Indianapolis. I would bet there is not a single Indianapolis native on the whole team. So why are Indianapolis fans cheering when their victory was purchased by talented and overpaid players selected from other teams? Isn’t the whole point of team sports to celebrate some modern day form of tribalism? Why go delirious when it was strangers that got your city a Superbowl crown in the first place? Your part in your team’s success was to pay bloated ticket prices to attend games and buy heavily marked up logoware.
This essential emptiness in most sports could be the reason that I am so indifferent to team sports. There is a certain amount of talent required to be a World Series or Superbowl champion. However, to me winning seems much more about random luck than talent, tactics and terrific coaching. Figure skating, for example, enchants me. This may be because it is as much art as it is a sport. In fact, the Olympics is about the only sporting event that holds any appeal to me. We need more Olympics, not less. It is much better for nations to channel their aggressive feelings through sporting events than with a gun or a sword.
Nonetheless, in our sports obsessed nation I do sometimes feel like an oddball. It would be easier to be sports indifferent if I were a woman, but instead I am a man. It is not that I am missing the competition gene. However, I can tell genuine competition when I see it, and, sorry football fans, football is not it. Perhaps that is why politics is one of my fascinations. Events like Congressional or Presidential elections can have huge consequences for my life. I am very grateful that the Democrats now control Congress, because I worry much less that my daughter, who is nearing eighteen, will now be drafted to fight in a winless war overseas. Whether the Bears or the Colts win, the Superbowl will likely have no effect on her life other than what it has had on mine: something you must grit your teeth and endure at certain times of the year.
So take my sports section, please! I have not opened it in years. I did not know who was playing in the Superbowl until it made the front page of my newspaper. The Washington Post could save many trees if it just stopped including that section in my newspaper. Instead, find me reading the fine details in the national and international news sections. Let me ponder the Op Ed section and write my pithy little political blog entries. Professional team sports might be entertainment, but for all its hoopla they are just frothy and inconsequential stuff. Enjoy it for its entertainment value; just do not delude yourself that it actually means anything.