No Boundaries Sport

What does sport mean to us

Sport fills a critical gap or two in our lives and the great Chomsky is far off the mark.

Recently, I picked up an old book from my modest collection and started reading it — Noam Chomsky’s Understanding Power — all over again and was struck by a solitary paragraph that got me thinking.

“Well, in our society, we have things that you might use your intelligence on, like politics, but people really can’t get involved in them in a very serious way — so what they do is they put their minds into other things, such as sports. You’re trained to be obedient; you don’t have an interesting job; there’s no work around for you that’s creative; in the cultural environment you’re a passive observer of usually pretty tawdry stuff; political and social life are out of your range, they’re in the hands of the rich folk. So what’s left? Well, one thing that’s left is sports — so you put a lot of the intelligence and the thought and the self-confidence into that. And I suppose that’s also one of the basic functions it serves in the society in general — it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter. In fact, I presume that’s part of the reason why spectator sports are supported to the degree they are by the dominant institutions,” writes the great linguist and cognitive scientist.

In the hectic, soul-numbing, nerve-shattering pace of post-modern life, when our very sanity is tested every single day, when we think that we have to or ought to have time for everything that we desire, or are forced to desire, what do we make of sport?

How do sports — playing them for a few, and watching them for many — help make our lives more meaningful? How do they contribute to the quality of our lived experience and embellish it with many of our more desirable emotions?

For some, sport is the very reason life is worth living. For others, sport may be one of the principal reasons why we are not quite as enlightened as our potential might suggest we ought to be.

But there still may be a few of us who think that it is absurd to even raise the question of sport’s meaning in our lives when the emotions triggered by sport are clearly the reasons for spending time although there may be a few young men who do little to improve productivity and even less to help us gain intellectual esteem.

These thoughts must occur to us from time to time; but few of us think that pausing to address the big question is anything other than downright stupid. After all, we never ask ourselves why we eat, or why we love our children, or even why we hate our enemies.

Recently, when a very senior retired army officer asked me what I did “with the rest of your [my] working life,’’ I laughed. And this is perhaps a logical or typical reaction from someone who has made a living watching and writing on sports for four decades.

But if sports and their commendable reasons for sitting in the stadiums day in and day out are the exceptions to the rule, then it would much more be an appropriate answer to the question than what the lay fan(atic) may come up with.

Sport, after all, means many things to many people and it would be almost impossible to find 10 or 20 fans give you the same answers when we pose this question: Why the hell do we waste so much time on sport when there are so many more basic as well as life-changing issues to which we can devote our precious time to during our short stay on this planet?

Fills a critical gap

But it would be a fallacy to believe that millions and millions of sports fans are wasting their time. For sport fills a critical gap or two in our lives and the great Chomsky is far off the mark, although we must admit there is a wee bit of truth in some of what he has said.

Yet, consider the other bunch of the intellectuals who are die-hard sports lovers, and you would immediately admit that Chomsky is part of a minority even among outstanding achievers in the academia or literature.

“Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football,” wrote the great French existentialist philosopher and novelist Albert Camus.

Of course, if you are caught up in the middle of a few drunken football hooligans in Britain or elsewhere in Europe on a bad night with the crowd surrounding you, all you might want to do is to run away from the sport that you have worshipped for a long time.

But to judge football’s — or any other major sports’ — from an evolutionary point of view, and capacity to teach us morality and our duties as civilised men from a single undesirable situation would be ridiculous.

It is only when you learn to enjoy sport at the intellectual level that you can aspire for a tiny bit of nobility and erudition of a Camus.

For sport serves many purposes — enjoyment through entertainment, soul-satisfaction, enlightenment, camaraderie, fighting spirit and, most of all, the ability to rise above the mediocre and ordinary — and helps us live a well-examined life that Socrates advanced to his own peril.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 5:02:20 PM |

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