Thursday, June 22, 2006

On the Exploitation of Sports

I just did some blog surfing, and I stumbled across the blog of distinguished Christian scholar, Ben Witherington III. Added him to my "Other Links" section on the left column of this blog. His recent entry about which he wrote about Rick Warren being a Model of Faith is well worth a read. I too have my critiques of Warren -- most especially the way he uses (or rather, MIS-uses) Scripture. But he's a phenomenal example of Christ in the world today & I'm happy to see an intellectual elite recognize him as such.

It also appears that Big Ben is a big movie afficionado. I'm glad to find a theologian who looks at movies as a way to take the pulse of contemporary culture & as a conveyer of ideas and truth.


Today's sports entertainment business has grown into a monster. It's beyond a machine. If it were only that, it would merely be a mechanized tool that facilitates our enjoyment of sports or helps us more productively or efficiently follow sports. No, the sports entertainment business is beyond a machine. It is a resource-consuming monster, out to devour every shred of it's customer's time & money it can possibly get it's grubby fingers on. It is a competitive world where different networks vie for fans' attention through any & every medium possible.

Used to be that sports was something people engaged in for recreation. Somewhere along the line, as the competition of these recreational games increased, people began to recognize the greatness of some athletes over others. Lines began to be drawn between professionals and amateurs, and all of a sudden people became willing to pay money to watch someone else play these recreational activities. And thus born was the sports fan. And from that point, it did not take long for smart capitalists to turn sports into an industry & learn how to exploit people's money.

It's a fascinating evolution from recreation to monster. And nowadays, there seems to be no limit to the exploitation of athletics. From newspapers to radio to books to magazines to television to internet to cellphones, the sports entertainment industry will use any medium they can possibly manipulate to make a buck.

Part of me loves it. Part of me loved turning on the radio Sunday evening & Monday to listen to the radio hosts talk about the collapses of Colin Mongomerie & Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot. I've listened to some of them so much that I've come to almost regard them as friends. I have an inkling of what they will think & say, and so I'm that much more interested. I enjoy reading what my favorite writers will write. I enjoy watching Kornheiser & Wilbon yelling at each other when they will discuss this topic.

However, I've come to notice how the monster rears it's head in less tasteful & enjoying ways. Some radio hosts took strange angles to keep listeners tuned in & people calling the station. One guy said everyone loves Mickelson only because he's fat. Others were insistent that what happened to Mickelson was not a choke, of course prompting phone call after phone call to try to set the host straight. Still others were comparing Mickelson's choke with the great golf chokes of all time (Palmer at the '66 U.S. Open, Norman at the '96 Masters, Van de Velde at the '99 British) and were taking the "inarguable position" that Phil's choke was the greatest of all of time. This is the tactic that I observe is used most often. It does 2 things: (1) makes people want to call in and argue, & (2) makes people think that this is such a ground-breaking subject that they must listen to the host's every word as he and his callers dissect every angle of this "greatest" or "worst" sports moment "of all time." It seemed like the hosts were less trying to capture the the main issues of the sports world and were more trying to take the most absurd angle so that they might inflate their show's ratings. Bill Simmons touched on this phenomenon in an article he wrote following Boston's victory in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS (a.k.a. the Schilling Bloody Sock game):

"Over the next few days, everyone will make a big deal about Schilling's Game Six, only some for the right reasons. We live in a sports world where every good moment gets beaten into the ground. It isn't enough for something to happen anymore. You have to vote. You have to watch two guys screaming on a split-screen. You have to read 400 columns about it, then columns by people reviewing those columns. You have to hear sports radio hosts screaming, and once the subject becomes exhausted, one of them takes a crazy angle on the topic just to keep the phone lines ringing for another few hours. It keeps going and going, a vicious little snowball. When it runs out of steam, something else replaces it and the whole cyce starts all over again."

There's no way Mickelson's choke was worse than any of the three mentioned above. Palmer had a 7 stroke lead with 9 holes to play & a 4 stroke lead with 4 to play. When he went to a playoff, he was up 2 after nine and ended up losing by 9. Van de Velde needed just a double bogey to win. You thought Mickelson's 18th was bad? Try multiplying that by 18, and then you get what it was like to watch Greg Norman lose to Nick Faldo at Augusta in 1996. Phil choked, and it was bad, but it's not on the same scale as the above three chokes.

If a buck can be made off of it, it will be exploited. Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter have made names for themselves by putting down others in the realm of politics. Since police investigations & the justice system are somewhat interesting, our televisions are saturated with shows dedicated to the subjects. The same with reality TV. And as long as our obsessive-compulsive personalities feed these monsters in our culture, they will continue to grow, adapt, and find even more creative ways to rob us of our time & money.

I suppose the solution is like the story I used in Bible class last Wednesday: starve the monster.

No comments: