Sports Commentary: Upside down

-A A +A

Sports should be a diversion; not a lens on society's ills

By Mike Forster


Baseball is still called our national pastime: a pleasant diversion designed to while away the hours in a pleasant fashion.

All sports should be so defined.

Unfortunately, today the world of sports also plays a role that extends beyond providing mere entertainment.

Sports have become part and parcel of how we define ourselves as a people.

There is no such thing as pure sports anymore.  Instead, every single sporting event seems to carry some sort of cultural significance.  In short, sports have become another lens through which we judge our larger society.

Yes, there is anger in the world.  Truly, there is injustice.

But, do we have to go hunting for it in the world of sports?  Worse, do we have to use sports to identify and punish reflections of society's ills without pursuing the roots of those difficulties?

For instance, I know much ink has been spilled over the owner of the LA Clippers and his racist attitudes.

But, how much less ink has been expended on an analysis of the unconscionable unemployment and incarceration rates of the African-American community?  I'll answer for you:  A lot less.

What I can't answer for you is why that is the case.

Certainly, there is little doubt this guy is a jerk.  But, is displacing him as an owner what defines the struggle for civil rights?

Should those current champions of civil rights pat themselves on the back once he's off the national radar, while the root problems within the aggrieved community remain unaddressed?

The same goes for the controversy over the moniker of the Washington Redskins.  

It is ever so much easier to debate whether that nickname is proper, whether it is offensive and whether it needs to be eliminated than it is to maturely analyze and deduce responses to the rampant alcoholism and poverty that wrack Native American reservations today.  

Did you know that Native Americans have a suicide rate which is three times the national average?  

Well, why get worked up about that when you can debate the finer points of a football team's nickname?

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be some debate about the Redskin name.  I'm only pointing out that there are significantly more impactful issues affecting the aggrieved party.

Worse, once the debate over mascots and their ability to offend has quieted, there will be sparse focus on those larger issues affecting the Native American population.

World Cup soccer is certainly not immune to the de-sporting of sports.

I came across an opinion piece by some fellow named Iain Levine.  It ran in the Virginian-Pilot a week, or so, ago.

In it, he agonizes over the nations represented in this year's World Cup.  Here's a portion of what he wrote:

What about when Australia (punitive and illegal policies against the rights of refugees and asylum seekers) faces Spain (proposed restrictions on reproductive rights and failure to protect all those facing evictions). 

Or when England (serious abuses of migrant domestic workers and allegations of detainee abuses in Iraq by British armed forces) plays Italy (racism and xenophobia towards migrants, forced returns of asylum seekers)?

Well, I can't answer for Mr. Levine.  But, as far as I'm concerned, I want to see some good soccer, no matter what the nations involved.  Note:  soccer players aren't the ones driving all the bad qualities Mr. Levine finds in four of America's staunchest allies.

We no longer seem able to accept sports for their own sake.  There always has to be something else:  a human element or a controversial aspect.

In essence, we have turned sports on their head.  Instead of being a diversion, they have become a way by which we gauge and judge humanity.

They were never meant to be such a barometer.  They are so now, in part, because they are the easy out.

These hot-button issues seem to be a lot of fun for folks to kick around.  While I'm not saying we should turn our backs on them, I do believe that we fail as a society when we believe their resolution actually solves the larger problems at hand.