Friday, August 24, 2007
Why people love sports
The other night the Texas Rangers squeaked past the Baltimore Orioles by a final score of 30-3. (Those are baseball teams, for those who don't love sports, and that's a baseball score not a football score, for those who do love sports and know that 30-3 doesn't happen every day on the diamond.)
When this game was reported by the sportswriters and broadcasters, it was described as a "beatdown." Back in the day, I might have preferred "creamed" or "smeared." In any descriptive terms, it was a very definitive outcome. There was a winner and a loser - a result you always get with baseball, even if it takes all night long. A clear and final outcome, a plainly obvious winner and loser - that's what we love about sports.
And we love that clearly defined outcome because it's so hard to come by in our regular lives.There is always some level of doubt, someone else doing better than you, some question of whether he/she really loves me or just says they do, a performance report that "leaves room for improvement." There's always a difference of opinion, another way to look at it, a lot of gray area, walking in another's moccassins, try to see it my way. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Testimony of the witnesses is contradictory. The surge is making a difference or it's done no good at all, we should pull out now or we should stay and finish the job. This is why we feel so bad about Vietnam and so good about WW2 - clearly defined outcome, winners and losers.
If you carry this thought out to the recent controversy over baseball's home run record, it's the lack of the clearly defined outcome that makes it all so unsatisfactory. Did he dope his way to success? If he did, does the record really count? Who's the real home run king? In football there used to be a lot of tie games, but people don't like ties (one of the knocks on soccer for a lot of Americans) so they changed the rules and now a tie is almost impossible. Got to have that clearly defined outcome. Same goes for instant replay. It wasn't enough just to see that the refs blew the call, now we get the satisfaction to see them eat crow and admit they were wrong.
And in the end, it's the basis for being afraid of death - the possibility there won't be a clearly defined outcome. What if you don't get a moment of judgement, no final score, and you just fade away? And if there is a golden throne and a big book with your permanent record, wouldn't you choose hell over limbo? Nobody wants the game to end in a tie.