The ideal of sport is a microcosm of life
Published: Thursday, March 19, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
The Issue: Columnist criticizes sports in the month of madness
What we think: The ideal of sport calls for perfection
Professor David Barash of the University of Washington recently composed a column for The Chronicle of Higher Education in which he opined, "The real question we should be asking during the madness surrounding this month's collegiate basketball championship season is not who will win, but why anyone cares." Professor Barash does not have a problem with being active or playing organized sports. But rather, he takes umbrage with the Nietzschean herd mentality that accompanies sports fanaticism.
He writes, "Not that I would try to stop anyone from root, root, rooting to his or her heart's content. It's just that such things are normally done by pigs, in the mud, or by seedlings, lacking a firm grip on reality - fine for them, but I am not at all sure this is something that human beings should do. In desperation, if threatened with starvation, I suppose that I would root - for dinner. But for the home team? Never."
While Professor Barash is correct in his assertion that developing parasocial relationships with athletes can be very unhealthy, his disdain for fandom is unwarranted, a narrow mischaracterization of something that can be both fulfilling and exhilarating.
Sport is a concentrated precipitate of life. There are winners and losers. There is a telos and achievement. Athletic competition is one of the few places in our contemporary political correct society in which we can publicly demand human excellence. Sport demands physical and mental perfection in order to achieve a desired end, and in between we see the perfection of the human body (watch Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia as a point of reference). Sport is kinetic poetry. And we do not glean all of this just by physically competing. We watch and cheer because we desire to understand life.
Sport is a buoy in the ocean of history, just as are political elections, the economy, and war. It marks our collective spirit in a specific time and provides an invaluable record of eras past. At the University, watching athletic competition takes on a more majestic role. It draws a disparate student population together, increases a school's national prestige, and fosters ritual and tradition that are important in the lives of young academics.
Therefore, during this season of madness, we encourage you to cheer, boo, call, guffaw, and sigh while following your favorite team. Just know that this is not done out of what Professor Barash calls "desperation," but rather out of the knowledge that any moment we watch may be the second we witness a type of perfection.