For some reason, most people on the Left (the actual Left, not center-right Democrats) aren’t sports fans. The non-sports-loving Left have their reasons, many of which are valid. As a society, we spend too much money on sports, place too much importance on them, and if you aren’t interested in them, it can put a definite cramp in your social life — especially in those high school years when you are just starting to struggle with what being a “grown up” actually means. The mythology of sports in America also helps create “super males,” who are treated favorably by others and allowed to get away with offenses ranging from poor academic performance in school to sexual assault. Pro and college sports also serve as a very good distraction in the USA, keeping people’s minds distracted from how genuinely awful so many things are.
I think we tend to be a little too hard on sports sometimes, though, and not just because it’s NBA playoff season and the Pacers-Wizards series has my blood pumping at an unhealthy PSI. Pan your viewpoint out “big picture” style, and you can start to see that almost everything in American culture serves as a distraction. If you think that all the useless stats sports fans memorize (the New England Patriots were 9th in the NFL in rushing yards last season, LeBron James got six first place votes to finish second in MVP voting, and Allen Iverson said the word “practice” 24 times in his most famous address to the media, for example) are particularly egregious examples of distraction, realize that there are people who edit entire Wikis about TV shows and spend a lot of time and money to dress up as anime characters at conventions. Not that I have a problem with either of those things. People all around the world seek entertainment.
However, there is another, larger point I seek to make here. When people have a strongly negative reaction to something other people enjoy, it takes away a potential avenue of conversation. If you are a sports fan, then that’s a great “ice breaker” with many people, just like being a fan of anime, videos games, country Western music, auto repair, or anything else. Mutual interests can serve to “humanize” you to a potentially hostile audience — the last thing Socialists need. Being flippant or dismissive of another’s interest, though, can potentially burn bridges that may never be rebuilt. Not to mention it can be an easy way to make points that others can relate to instantly.
Here’s an example of how a Socialist might talk about sports.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the most “American” of all sports teams right now. A former powerhouse of the NBA, the Lakers finished well outside the playoffs this year. It has been an ugly but predictable descent. Instead of cultivating new, young talent to the best of its abilities, the Lakers mythologize the past and drastically overpay a greedy, self-serving old-timer who looks only to pad his pocketbook and build his personal mythology. The team ownership — its government, so to speak — appears to be completely incompetent to run the team, having made big but wrong moves (like hiring Mike D’Antoni), and clinging to some vague idea of their exceptionalism as they acquiesce to a small but powerful and visible minority of one that has no interest except his own.
Meanwhile, younger competitors like the Clippers, Warriors, and Thunder race past them to greater heights by making smart moves and looking to the future instead of the past. The proud history of one of the most successful franchises in sports only serves to make it an even more embarrassing laughing stock as it remains stuck in a miasma of mediocrity from which there is seemingly no quick exit.
Aside from the revenues the Lakers generate — its powerful economy — there is very little going for the Lakers right now. Instead of being outraged at the awful direction the team has taken, instead of being in an uproar that the team is selling out its future to please a notoriously selfish (if supremely talented) player who has no interest in the shape of the team in 20 years, the majority of its fans — the team’s constituents — have placed themselves in a state of willful denial, relying on the same vague sense of exceptionalism to mask the reality of an awful present and bleak future that has been manufactured by the parties in power they came to rely on.
Yeah, the Lakers are “America’s Team” alright — just don’t tell that to a Lakers fan.