Written by The Dad
Sports don’t matter.
A friend asked me once why I like sports so much. He didn’t feel like sports in general could handle the scrutiny I applied to other things in life like my education, politics or my beliefs. In my friend’s view sports were a complete waste of time. They don’t really add anything to society. Athletes practice for hours, submit themselves to injury, and then compete with someone else, only to have the result of the contest not matter anyway. What’s so great about spending a lot of effort to do something better than someone else when it doesn’t really need to be done in the first place?
I couldn’t give him a satisfactory answer. I just…like sports. I get that there’s not much of a point, but then what’s the point of most of what we do on Saturday? Why watch a movie or read a fictional book or play a video game or go to an amusement park? I had to admit I didn’t really know.
That conversation comes to mind every once in a while so I decided to write down what I came up with.
I – Benefits to Individuals
I’ve always liked sports
Sports have always been a big part of my life. Some of my best memories from when I was young are going to the Kingdome in Seattle to watch the Mariners probably lose to someone. I loved the whole atmosphere; the sounds, the smells, the athletic prowess, the cheesy scoreboard cartoons, the vivid colors of that awful carpet, the sliding pits and the plastic outfield walls. It of this inside a giant concrete building that could serve few other purposes. None of it made objective sense and it was awesome!
My walls had NFL Quarterback Club calendars and posters of Shawn Kemp (until I realized how many kids he had with how many women and I got disgusted and took them down). I tried to copy these athletes when I played sports myself, and my parents taught me early on the difference between emulating their play and emulating their lifestyles. I broke a few plastic suction cup basketball hoops in my day but I never went to jail.
In second grade I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. My doctor and my parents made use of my love for sports and encouraged me to get exercise whenever I could to help manage my blood sugar levels. I played baseball for one year and was mostly just scared of the ball, so I transitioned to basketball the next year and have played it since. Besides the exercise being good – therapeutic even – I really liked the competition. I still can’t explain why people all seem born with a need to compete at things but everyone seems to have it in them. I never played more competitively than my high school freshman team, but I’ve played recreationally fairly often since.
I hope my kids like sports
I think sports are good for kids. A few generations ago Tom and Huck ran around in the woods and hunted for treasure in the woods and in caves or whatever. Today, this isn’t as practical. Communities are more compact and land is harder to come by. Plus, letting kids out of your sight for just a moment makes you a bad parent.
Sports teach kids about exercise, teamwork, self-discipline and all sorts of other nice things. Youth sports leagues are a great place to learn how to deal with unruly adults which will serve kids well as they grow older (I once officiated a recreational league for sixth grade girls; their parents were the worst). I also believe the physical coordination of sports, like dance, music and art use the creative part of your brain that is most often neglected in schools now (See: Any Youtube video by Ken Robinson).
In short, sports are fun and mostly harmless if kept within the right perspective.
Sports don’t matter, but they’re a great teaching and learning tool and a great way to stay healthy.
II – Benefits to Communities
Speaking of communities, I like how sports bring people together. It seems like the only two things that bring entire communities of people together are tragedies and sports, and tragedies are bad. We fight about everything else.
A few years ago I started a new job located in a new state and a 3-hour flight from where I grew up. During one of my first months on the job I was called to an area of the manufacturing shop where I’d never worked. I was given an assignment that was unfamiliar but didn’t seem complicated. I made a quick assessment of the situation and offered some advice on how I thought the mechanic could solve his situation. The mechanic looked at me with mild disgust and tossed some variant of “Who do you think you are?” and strolled away. He didn’t talk to me directly for several months.
Time passed, and I assume the mechanic’s disdain for me must have gradually thawed into mild ambivalence.
Then football season rolled around. My coworker saw me wearing a hat from a sports team from my area and couldn’t help himself; he had to say something. Long story short, this coworker stops by my desk each Friday to talk about the football coming up and each Monday to talk about the football that already happened. During non-football season this coworker stops by my desk and talks about hypothetical football. We have a great working relationship and he routinely does me work-related favors to help facilitate the interaction between our job roles. It’s pretty bizarre.
When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2014 I watched the victory parade and was blown away by how many people attended. Several hundred thousand people lined the streets. I can’t think of another event that could garner that many attendees peacefully (for comparison, Woodstock tops out at about 400,000, and I doubt they’re always as civil).
Sports don’t matter but they’re the only thing that cause strangers to high-five.
Bumper Sticker Diplomacy
I often wear hats and shirts with my favorite teams’ logos on them and I have stickers on my cars. I get high fives from strangers during certain sports seasons. I get a wave or a honk and a thumbs-up in traffic. Even fans of opposing teams will acknowledge the logos with mock outrage, followed by a friendly conversation. I realize not every city is as congenial as the one I live in, but as people and families become more mobile I believe more cities are congenial than aren’t. I never see people giving high fives or thumbs up for political bumper stickers, but I do for sports.
There are a few places locally (gas stations, restaurants, etc) where employees recognize me as the out-of-market Seattle guy based on the hats I wear. They always want to talk about sports, and then invariably they know someone from Seattle or they like to vacation there, and eventually they just like to say hi when they see me and ask me how I’m doing and we chat for a few minutes. We still don’t know each others’ names but it doesn’t matter. Our common bond is we are both casual sports fans. Now I get great service.
See: Olympics, Goodwill Games, etc.
Sports don’t matter, but they foster good will and bring people together in ways almost nothing else can.
Another way sports benefit communities is in school athletics. Through athletics, students have the opportunity to have their college education paid for just for playing a sport. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Students can take a recreational activity and parlay it into a degree worth…a lot.
Sports don’t matter but they can be a pathway to a better life.
III – Benefits to the Economy
We Have It Good
We have it really good in this country.
Why do I say that? Because sports don’t actually matter, yet we pay for them. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, teams beating other teams at sports have little to do with anything besides themselves, and yet they fill a giant place in the larger economy. I actually think this is a good thing. The fact that sports exist and are such driving forces in the economy is a testament to our way of life. We have frivolity built right into our economy and I believe that’s a good thing.
Money in Sports
The financial side of sports can be a touchy subject. “Owners and athletes make too much money” is a common refrain. Again I would say that sports don’t matter and their value is completely in our minds. If society at large decides that that value isn’t worth the price then society will stop paying that price and the sports will disappear.
People also complain about how much money it costs to go to sporting events (especially at the professional level) and I can’t disagree. I used to pay $5 to sit in the upper decks of professional games. Tickets like that almost don’t exist anymore. Tickets start much higher, and range up to prices I wouldn’t pay for a car. Almost all stadiums now have luxury boxes for which companies pay thousands of dollars per game. But, think about what that means. It means people and companies with a lot of money are routinely paying a lot of money to watch nothing happen, which in turn employs a lot of people. It’s like a giant jobs program that that produces entertainment!
Sports don’t matter but they sure employ a lot of people.
Sports create a lot of unique jobs that wouldn’t exist any other way, again, in a slice of the economy that serves no purpose other than to perpetuate itself and entertain. I think this is a good thing.
Discussions about the sports in the larger economy usually center on the indirect benefits to stadium communities. There’s an ongoing (probably never-ending) debate about how sports affect local economies. When professional sports teams decide they want new stadiums they usually threaten to leave town and take their contribution to that segment of economy with them if they can’t get public funding. The pro-stadium argument has always been that stadiums bring tangential jobs to communities, and therefore could hurt a local economy if the teams moved away. This may or may not be true on a local level; it’s very hard to prove.
I’m not going to get into the public-money-for-private-sports debate in this post (other than to say I’m glad the NFL is no longer a non-profit entity) other than to make one point: many sports jobs can’t be outsourced.
Game day jobs, from parking attendants and vendors to the front offices of the teams, can’t be done more cheaply somewhere else. They can’t be done somewhere else at all. When those teams leave town these jobs completely cease to exist. Granted, some of these aren’t full-time jobs and don’t pay particularly well, but they make great part-time and seasonal employment for those who want or need it. While tangential service jobs in hotels and restaurants may be hurt a little if a team leaves town, the jobs directly associated to the teams and leagues would vanish from that local economy completely.
Sports, in and of themselves, don’t matter in a measurable way, but I believe they have a lot of creative, intrinsic and often intangible value which benefit individuals, communities and the economy.
I guess that’s why I like sports.