Sunday, November 21, 2004

Hoop Screams

Next time you take your family out to the ball game, make sure you dress appropriately: flak jackets, helmets, and boxing gloves (mouth guards optional). These days, spectator sports have become full-contact reality shows.

Melee in Michigan, and this summer's Oakland Brawl are more reminiscent of the battle scenes in Braveheart than the idealized contests in Field of Dreams.

But what can we learn from this latest debacle? That professional athletes aren't models of virtue and are coddled, indulged, overpaid, and self-centered? Heh. What we've learned is that some of them can throw mean right hooks. And don't challenge a professional athlete on their field of play unless your last name is Tyson.

We certainly can't turn to the sociologists for help. These latest incidents remind me of my (misguided) days at Berkeley, dabbling in the sociology department for a few easy credits. I took "Sociology of Sport," taught by the renowned Dr. Harry Edwards, Olympic mentor to Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Edwards' thesis? It's all about racism. And Dr. Harry Edwards (his autobiography was the textbook.) One's grade was directly proportional to the amount of times you could use the words "systematic" and "institutionalized" in your papers.

Let's see what Dr. Harry is
saying these days (from an article in 2000):

"Sports always recapitulates society, in terms of its character, dynamics, and the structure of human relations. Just as I believe emphatically that the challenge of the twentyfirst century will be diversity in all of its guises, the challenge in sports in the twentyfirst century is going to be diversity. We are going to be looking at circumstances where we cannot separate out race, from class, gender, sexuality, technoclass status or age."

In other words, not much. The only thing more empty than the interview of the athlete after the game is the suit of the broadcaster-athlete after he's retired.

Sport is about doing, not analyzing. And when good people compete, and are patronized by good people in the stands, you get a
good result. But I'd still pack the flak jacket.