I’m not a big sports fan and I am a fan of Christopher Hitchens, but I think he’s way off base in this Newsweek essay:
Yes, yes, I know about Invictus and am a slight friend and strong admirer of the author of the original book. But it was the use of rugby and other sporting cults to reinforce and exemplify apartheid that had been the problem in the first place. And no clear-eyed observer of the South African scene thinks that the Invictus moment was any more than a brief pause in the steady decline of friendship between the country’s ethnic groups: a decline that has much to do with sporting rivalries and the idiotic loyalties and customs on which such allegiances depend. So here’s something so toxic that it’s even Mandela-proof. (I suppose that the people who so willingly describe themselves as “fans” are aware of the etymology of the term but consider it to be no insult.)
I’m not done. Our own political discourse, already emaciated enough, has been further degraded by the continuous importation of sports “metaphors”: lame and vapid and cheery expressions like “bottom of the ninth,” “goal line,” and who knows what other tripe. Hard enough on the eyes and ears as this is—and there are some cartoonists who can’t seem to draw without it—it also increases the deplorable tendency to look at the party system as a matter of team loyalty, which is the most trivial and parochial form that attachment can take. Meanwhile, the sponsorship racket means that a string of thugs and mediocrities is regularly marketed and presented for “role modeling” purposes, and it’s considered normal for serious programming to be postponed or even interrupted if some dull game goes into (the very words are like a knell) overtime.
I can’t count the number of times that I have picked up the newspaper at a time of crisis and found whole swaths of the front page given over either to the already known result of some other dull game or to the moral or criminal depredations of some overpaid steroid swallower. Listen: the paper has a whole separate section devoted to people who want to degrade the act of reading by staring enthusiastically at the outcomes of sporting events that occurred the previous day. These avid consumers also have tons of dedicated channels and publications that are lovingly contoured to their special needs. All I ask is that they keep out of the grown-up parts of the paper.
Politics as a team sport is a pretty stupid idea, but sports as team sports is, you know, what it is. Competition can be a good or bad thing, depending on one’s attitude.
Somebody needs to go out in the fresh air and release some endorphins…