Less Politics, More Sports

Politics, in the (dis)United States is similar to sports in that one of two parties wins each election, but politics is significantly different from sports because the parties’ policy differences directly impact our quality of life. When your favorite athlete or sports team loses, life goes on, the same as before. There’s far, far less at stake.

Politics is a never-ending contest to create more hopeful, opportunistic conditions in which people might thrive; while sports is about unfulfilled fantasies mixed with the delusion that you can will your team to victory and the temporal bragging rights winning accords you. The bragging rights are fleeting because after every season records are wiped clean and there’s a complete reset.

In politics, we’re at a point where each side almost instinctively questions one another’s sanity and humanity. In contrast, we don’t wonder how can a sane person be a Chicago Bears fan, a Minnesota Timberwolves fan, a Chelsea fan, a Duke fan? Well, maybe Duke isn’t the best example since any Carolina fan will tell you that Duke has a distinctively Republican vibe. But I digress. We know sports fans choose their teams based upon some mix of nostalgia and geography, not a sense of superiority.

In contemporary U.S. politics, resentments continuously build. Records are never wiped clean and there are never any resets. As the last 5-10 years so clearly illustrates, antipathy just builds and builds and builds.

It’s to the point now, where I believe many Republican opinion leaders care more about Democrats doing poorly in elections than they care about the country doing well. Undoubtedly, many Republicans suspect the same of many Democratic opinion leaders.

That myopia of only seeing electoral trees at the expense of the forest is distinct to politics. Sports fans don’t cheer when opposing players are injured. In fact, despite a minority of “boo birds”, the majority don’t root against the other team, they simply root for their “home” team.

Of course, the problem with my “less politics, more sports” plea is that political apathy enables incompetent and/or corrupt politicians to harm the common good even more. In the end, I’m advocating for being more sports-like in our politics. How about organizing and rooting for your team without demonizing the other one nearly as much. And for a change of pace, root for your country even more than your team.

Groundhog Day: Surprised Again By A Star Athlete’s Flaws

Jeff Pearlman’s book, Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, was released yesterday. Payton played professional football for da’ Bears from 1975-1987. The Walter Payton Man of the Year award is given annually by the NFL honoring a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field. Prior to 1999, it was called simply the NFL Man of the Year Award. Shortly after Payton died from cancer in 1999 the award was renamed to honor his legacy as both a great player and a humanitarian.

A humanitarian who, according to Pearlman, was in a long-standing close relationship with another woman besides his wife (who insisted not only on attending his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but sitting in the front row), was addicted to pain pills, and seriously contemplated suicide. Apparently Pearlman spends twenty to thirty of the four hundred pages on the unseemly underside of Payton’s private life.

Payton’s coach, Mike Ditka, is leading a backlash against Pearlman’s book. “I’d spit on him,” he said recently. “I have no respect for him.”

In which case I have no respect for Ditka who needs a primer on the first amendment.

Dan Patrick, my favorite sports media person, recently discussed the controversy engendered by the book. His question was, “Do you the fan want to know the truth about the athletes you follow?” Patrick said he did. Others on his show said they did not. Patrick went on to say the fans don’t realize athletes are human beings. Ordinary human beings, a mix of good and bad, like all of us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they were more like us. If we limit the discussion to professional basketball and football players (versus professional marathoners, swimmers, or amateur athletes for instance) from the last decade or two, there’s ample legal evidence that their behavior, on average, is far worse than the ordinary human beings that pay to watch them play.

Why? Some possibilities:

1) If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the same is probably true for money. I suspect, especially in cases where someone grows up without any, mad money blows those teetering on the fence of adhering to society’s norms off onto the “laws don’t apply to me” side.

2) Public adulation is another wind blowing those teetering on the fence of society’s norms off onto the “laws don’t apply to me” side. The star professional athlete’s classic line when pulled over, “Don’t you know who I am?”

3) In the case of football at least, the more violent the player is on the field, the more successful. Maybe it’s hard, when the stadium and television lights are turned off, to throw the non-violent switch.

4A) Some athletes blow through their money while playing short careers, don’t have enough of an education to fall back on after retiring, and turn to the “informal” economy to get by. See Lenny Dykstra. 4B) Some suffer from public adulation withdrawal. The Dennis Rodman effect. They’re committed to staying in the public’s conscience even if they have to repeatedly get arrested to do so.

5) Sociology. You are the company you keep. Middle school students aren’t the only ones susceptible to negative peer pressure. Locker rooms no doubt have tipping points.

Of all people, Ditka should know that every athlete is a one-person public relations firm. There are lots of faithful, law-abiding professional athletes making worthwhile contributions to society off the field. Just not as large a percentage of the readers of this blog.