Oftentimes when people ask me about some Baseball or Football game, I’ll tell them: “Sorry, there are few things I care less about than sports!” Half the time that answer goes right over their head, evidenced by some detailed response about what happened. For years and years I’ve been of the opinion that professional sports as a whole are a net deficit to society; if only people would spend half the time they spend on examining their leagues and teams of choice , memorizing stats, watching games (and don’t forget the commercials!) on learning what their governments do in their name, what’s really on their tax returns etc, we would have better societies. These days more and more opinions are based on less and less understanding of the issues it seems, and now that some very valuable sources of information like the NY Times have been classified by some of the upper echelon of knuckleheads as “Fake News”, there’s even more of a reason to remain ignorant. Combine that with the fact that a game of which you don’t want to miss a second is the perfect vehicle for creating a textbook captive audience, one ready to swallow whatever propaganda (that’s what commercials are, let’s not kid ourselves) you interrupt it with, and you have a precarious situation.
Every coin has two sides though, so there must be benefits to all of us, aren’t there? Of course there are! Humans are inherently tribal, and have a need to belong to one. Rooting for the same team can bring cities or countries together; for a short time, people from all walks of life, from minimum wagers to lawyers, black, brown or white, the mundane to the crazy can all feel like their on the same side. If it weren’t for the insane (IMHO) commercial interruptions, it can create a way to develop an attention span longer than the typical 30 seconds we’re getting used to. It creates a framework for learning how to deal with winning and losing, how to learn about patience and working towards a long-term goal in a world of short-term thinking.
Now there’s one more thing, and it’s something I don’t write about lightly. These days, more than ever before during my lifetime anyway, it seems one is not allowed to call people dumb anymore. “Everyone is smart in his or her own way” seems to be the predominant narrative, but that means nothing in my opinion. Just like a school system in which everyone passes every test, no matter the actual performance, it just devalues the label. So let’s define what smart means in what I’m getting at. Wikipedia has a great entry about it and it shows the wide variety of meanings the term carries; let’s go with this:
In this light, it would be impossible to say everyone is equally intelligent, is it? There just are some that are much quicker and better at dealing with complex information and use it to adapt to unknown situations. Intelligence is not being good at remembering batting averages for your favorite team; it’s about solving problems you’ve never seen before, using things you learned from others situations! It’s about listening to a long complex story and quickly distilling the important parts and filing them in your mental toolbox. Having said that, in my opinion, it’s not something you can learn, it’s more like a talent your born with. You can develop it, you can hone it, but sorry, some of us are just born with less of it, just like physical abilities or traits. Exactly like with every other human trait, our population spans the gamut, from Einstein to those who can do barely more than stuff their face and run real fast and that’s OK. As a matter of fact, it’s what makes humans so powerful as a group; diversity is the ultimate recipe for resilience and that’s a great topic for another day. So, why am I bringing all of this up? Well, of course not every sports fan is ‘dumb’, but for some of us, there’s tremendous value in a ‘universe’ which we can completely understand. Let me explain what I mean.
As our world becomes more and more complex, it becomes harder and harder to comprehend and lack of understanding creates uncertainty. Religion is so powerful for exactly that reason: it provides a mechanism for providing “the complete story” even when you don’t get all the individual parts. In the end, there will be heaven or hell and that’s that. When you can define the theory of everything, it gives certainty, which leads to acceptance which leads to peace of mind. The universe is a big place and no one, not even the smartest 1000 people that every lived put together can even pretend to get the whole picture. Some of us are totally fine with that, but ironically the more you know the more you know that you don’t know shit! It’s one of the reasons I couldn’t get myself to continue my course in electrical engineering; theories built upon theories, conclusions we knew were wrong, but the best estimation we have, stated as the absolute truth. Don’t even get me started about Economics! The certainty with which some spout their theories….. The truth is that the system is too complex for anyone to comprehend and I don’t blame people for wanting to check out of the discussion.
And that’s the beauty of sports! It’s like a limited universe, a rather large world of winners and losers, of strategies and outcomes, of hard work and luck, that’s relatively easy to get. It allows just about anyone to get it, to see the big picture, to have the ability to contribute to a conversation with a relevant statement. It’s a microcosm in which traditional ‘intelligence’ is of very limited value, where talent, and dedication and hard work are 99% of the value, but there still is enough diversity and complexity to be ever-changing and ‘interesting’ for anyone’s lifetime. The older I get, the more I see the value in it (even though it still doesn’t really interest me very much at all) to the point where I’ve changed my mind about the net value proposition.