Monday, March 4, 2013

The Nations Second Religion: Sports In America

        All through the month of February all I have to do is be out in the car with someone,or at the local mall and I know just about what'll happen. There will be young people sticking their heads out of cars yelling and blitzing randomly,making such noise they could easily distract drivers into a six care pileup. There will be stores crowded with with collage age men and women pushing past each other-crowded together like packs of hungry wolves in the throws of a feeding frenzy. Is this because of some mammoth school winter vacation  Actually it all happens because of the enormously popular University Of Maine basketball tournaments during that time frame. Of course it's also next to impossible to find a seat at any restaurant in town with the busloads of people playing in or coming to see these games. Melissa Etheridge once referred to sports as America's second religion in After Stonewall,referring to the first Gay Games. But this has always somehow confused me. Why are games where people throw or kick some type of ball around to score points on a board become so popular that it's grown into a multi billion dollar industry? Honestly I've never understood the appeal on that level.
       Personally I've always found it to be an ironically twisted aspect of many people. And it is just as female as it is male oriented-especially with the advent of the soccer mom phenomenon.  Now truth be known there are many local and national athletes who are genuinely interested in the physical skill involved in what they do. And most of them are quite humanistically concerned and decent. In other cases,especially among dispelled of the games (I use that term to again equate sports and religion) seem to use these events as an excuse to behave in a way that would be unthinkable elsewhere,especially in terms of bigotry and competitive hatred.  The English soccer riots are one example. But one of the biggest to me is pro wrestling. Even to it's fans known for being mostly very staged theater,it often perpetuates dangerously racist ideas by portraying a villainous adversary from an "unpopular" nation. In the 1980's they might be portrayed as being from Soviet Russia. Today they would be portrayed as Arab.  Some might view this in it's proper perspective. But I've seen firsthand how a person who is already ethnically bitter might use such an event to justify their unneeded hatred towards others.
        Now that is a personal opinion. And only one side of the coin. But if we flip the coin over,there's another side with very positive connotations  The Olympic games are a perfect example. In a very epic ceremony,countries from all over the world come together not necessarily to compete for themselves,but to showcase the different levels of physical strength and dexterity offered by the different cultures around the world. And all done in the spirit of global peace and community. Despite occasional examples of the negative fowl play I just discussed case in point the 1992 incident with Nancy Carigan and Tanya Harding,this communal approach of the Olympics often has the effect of having a meaningful influence on everyone involved-both the athletes and their supporters. Many  other athletes,both professional and minor league, have donated time and money non tax deductible to children's hospitals and other humanistic causes,even ones promoting world peace much in the spirit of the Olympic games.  Such athletes have in recent years even devoted their earnings to supporting the arts. Which is important since that emphasizes the most important conflicts and challenges sports faces.
          Truth be told my interest lie primarily in the arts,but I am not speaking with any bias in this regard. For as long as I can remember I have seen a lot of economic difficulty in the area I live in. More and more homeless,more and more mentally ill people without a place to go and more and more grown adults-often with families,showing signs of...shall I say less than below average educational standards. Many important local politicians seem to merely put this off. But if a pee wee league basketball team needs new jersey's,or an auditorium needs repair for the tournaments there always seems to be an endless reservoir of money to pay for this.  Considering how many art and music programs are cut from schools,and the extreme difficulty artists of any sort in this area seem to have getting noticed,is it really that hard to imagine someone like me not viewing sports as having a highly disintegrating effect on the world around me? It's very much a sausage effect-you squeeze one end and it grows alarmingly larger on the other end to the point where it begins to burst. If taken within a productive context I am sure sports can always exist as it was meant to in this country: as America's pastime  But as America's preoccupation? Well now most people seem to be just coming to realize what those like me have realized all along: devoting ones life and thoughts halfway to a mere game diminishes all those children and adults who need the basics of life first so,one day,they can even have a pastime.

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