The van I was riding in was taking me, along with a group of tourists, to the Arkansas River for a rafting trip. The Arkansas River is in Colorado, which never made much sense to me. It was July, and the people in the van, most of whom I did not know, were arguing about which team was better – the Denver Broncos or the Dallas Cowboys. I was trying to stay out of this discussion since I had no clue and couldn’t care less. But alas some one turned to me and asked me what I thought – as if it really made any difference what I thought. I replied, “I really don’t know anything about baseball.”
My comment pretty much put the discussion on pause as the people tried to comprehend the significance of what I had said. Unfortunately they never did. I discovered many years ago that my comments about professional sports either a.) piss people off, b.) are received with hearty agreement, or c.) result in blank looks – which is what happened this time. If there are sports agnostics out there, I’ve not met them.
This all came back to me while I was visiting my sister in Delaware, Ohio over New Years. Delaware is about a 30-minute drive north of Columbus. We were out shopping late on a Monday afternoon. I had been seeing many cars flying flags, or adorned with stickers that said Ohio State Buckeyes. I inquired about it and was told that Ohio State was playing Notre Dame. In the grocery store the loud speaker system was broadcasting the game live. I couldn’t recall ever hearing a live radio broadcast of anything in a grocery store – not even when John F. Kennedy was shot.
Much of the citizenry of this country, and many other countries, is “sports crazy.” I like the term “sports crazy” because it is so apt. The word “crazy” has a number of meanings – “mad,” “insane,” and “obsessed” are some of them, but obsessed seems to be most descriptive. “Irrationally obsessed” is what I call it. If you go into any bar in the country, you will soon hear one or more discussions about some sport, sports figure, sports pool, or which team or player did this or that. The average sports enthusiast can tell you who played in the Super Bowl each of the last five years, but doesn’t know the capital of Australia or who the vice president of the US was during the Reagan administration. This is not to say that the average sports enthusiast is dumb. Most people on the street would not know this either. But if they don't know who won the Super Bowl, they could name the cast of Cheers.
My point is that we, as nation, have some rather questionable priorities about that which we commit to memory and that which we ignore. Personally, I think it’s a lot more important to know where Dubai is located or who won the Nobel Peace Prize than who won the Heisman Trophy. And it annoys me greatly that millions of overweight, beer-swilling sports fans are shouting at televisions in homes and bars around the U.S. while the significant events, like the war in Iraq, AIDS, world hunger, and other realities never ever receive that kind of attention.
If we could take one-year’s worth of salaries that are earned by all of the professional athletes and combine that with the time and energy consumed in one year by all the people discussing and watching sports, we could solve a lot of world crises. But where is the fun in that? And where would we find the sponsors? And who would bring the beer? The hell with reality – turn on the TV.
PS: Don't email me defending sports. I've heard all the arguments pro and con. I'd rather not hear them again. The same goes for born-again Christinans and people who like to kill animals. I probably can't change your mind and you definitely won't change mine.