Sports have become a large part of American culture; whether it is football, basketball, or baseball, we all seem to have a horse in the race. National pride in sports is nothing new; look anywhere else in the world and fútbol (or what we butcher and call “soccer”) is the pastime of the rich and the poor alike. Our sports traditions have come to define us. Words like tailgating are not pegged as an incorrectly spelled word in Microsoft Word.
Pervasive and invasive, sports are larger than life.
I know what you’re thinking: way to be a downer, jackass. Isn’t the Super Bowl only a couple of weeks away? Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan. I love the statistics and the hometown feeling of a team you root for going all the way. But I had a strange thought as I was considering a novel I am working on: What would this world look like if the current iteration of sports resembled something completely different?
Let me set the scene: I was having a late breakfast and watching Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless duke it out on First Take on ESPN. I enjoy their back-and-forth banter because it so expertly captures our reverent need to have meta-discussions about sports. As I sat there and listened to them talk about the Alex Rodriguez scandal, I tried to imagine how much world-building I would have to accomplish in order to have a meta-discussion about a minor part of the human experience.
And then it dawned on me: it isn’t a minor part at all.
Our love of our sports teams leaks into every aspect of our daily lives: personal and private moments, as well as in our professional lives. We have sports pools with our co-workers, fantasy football teams with our friends, sports apparel, and after-school sports teams for our children. Sports, in all its incarnations, are damn near an infestation—if you were to look at them negatively, of course.
Yet, sports provide us with so much: lessons on how to compete, how to be physically fit, to focus our passions, to play on a team, and to have confidence in ourselves. I think somewhere along the line the intrinsic factors of sports are hijacked by the extrinsic factors that lead to philosophical and monetary differences that leave us feeling alone and mortified for our friend who can’t seem to stop posting about his favorite team. Let’s try and remember what sports offer us to make our lives better—and to make us better people—and not what we can do to make athletes and endorsing parties ever richer.