The Impurity of Sport
Last Spring, I quit football. To be honest, I quit caring about professional sports altogether. I decided I had better and more productive ways to use my time than researching, watching, and discussing institutions that provide me no benefit besides easy conversation fodder.
It wasn’t until the third week of the NFL season that someone actually tried to converse about football with me. “Hey, check out how my fantasy players are doing,” was the gist of it. It wasn’t until midway through the ALCS that I even knew baseball had reached the playoffs. For the most part, my exodus from sports was thorough and perfect. Of course, given the domestic violence scandals in the NFL and the rape scandals in college, it’s not as if professional sports has fallen completely off my radar.
Enter last night. A friend of mine, with whom I used to play fantasy football, passed along this article in the New York Post tying the cover up of domestic violence to Spygate, the 2007 cheating scandal by the New England Patriots.
The story strikes me as unfortunate. Not only does it draw attention away from the domestic violence issue rather than toward it, it tries to pin the origins on Spygate.
While Spygate can certainly be cited as another minor blight on the NFL, American professional sports has long been all about pointing fingers with one hand while stabbing PED needles or palming spitballs or popping greenies with the other. Compared to Aaron Hernandez’s murder, Ray Rice’s rendition of Love in an Elevator, or Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring, Spygate is just cheating and football is just football.
I’m sorry, America, but football isn’t important. It doesn’t make you a better person, and many cases it makes you a worse person. Rape culture is heavily spread by sports institutions. Holier than thou prima donna egoism is almost necessary to succeed at a high level in sports. At the end of the day, when we return to our homes and examine if we went out and made the world a better place, sports will rarely, if ever, be a reason.
Sports and games in general are designed with strictures in place to create a safe environment in which to challenge ourselves and overcome adversity. They give us a place to learn teamwork, to discover that people different from us are capable of success, and teach us tolerance, humility and grace. These are the good things that come from sports.
Spectator sports have given us stars like Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige, Iving “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird, Arthur Ashe and Martina Navratilova, Oscar Pistorius and Renée Richards. They’ve also given us stars like Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Tiger Woods, Aaron Hernandez, Michael Vick, and Ray Lewis. And ultimately, while these people might set a good or bad example, they’re hardly the reason we should be involved in sports.
Unfortunately, the New York Post article is one more indication that we’ve lost sight of this. The amount of money, the level of spectacle, and even the individual endorphin rush have blinded us to the true purpose of sports. Instead of looking back at Spygate and decrying the state of football, the embarrassment at the lengths that people will go to make an ugly, capitalist institution appear pure when it can never truly be so, we should be looking forward at how we can change the culture of sports, get back to its true purpose and allow our stars and heroes to once again do great goods like crossing the color barrier, or making it acceptable to be a Jew in America, or showing us that all genders and sexualities can succeed and compete at a high level.
While trying to get rid of cheating is admirable, bringing up Spygate again and again is a waste of time and energy. That the New York Post thinks this is good journalism in light of the suffering of women and children is reprehensible and appalling. Go ahead and call for Roger Goodell’s head on a platter, or vilify Bill Belichick for his utter obsession with winning.
Come Sunday, however, perhaps it’s time we didn’t sit on the couch and scream at a TV, but instead have a serious discussion with friends about what it takes to be a good person. After all, the NFL isn’t going to tell you.