Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Why Sports Matter

I loved sports as a young man, cheering on the home team and playing several sports myself. I saw in athletics the joy of learning what my limits were – the pursuit of physical perfection even though I knew that wasn’t really possible.

Later I came to look down on sports as the glorification of the physical (and the individual) at the expense of the collective. Even for team sports, especially professional team sports, the adulation tended to migrate toward the stars. We remember the stars of the great teams from the past, but we forget the supporting players.

Magic Johnson, Joe DiMaggio, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Favre, Mia Hamm: all of them caught our imaginations at some point. But their teammates are mostly forgotten.

And there’s an arbitrariness to sports that Noam Chomsky so elegantly noted. Sports, he said, occupy the population and keep them from trying to get involved in things that really matter. They train us for subordination to power and for chauvinism – and they develop totally irrational loyalties.

This is all true.

And yet – it is also true, I think, that sports mollify something black in our natures. They serve as a stand-in for the violence of which we might otherwise partake. Without sports, we might engage in endless wars. It almost seems like we do that now anyway, but the global scene might become more chaotic without sports to drain us of our competitive urges, our desire to dominate, our appetite for the hunt and the kill.

Not to mention that physical exercise is necessary for the mind as well – without movement, blood flow dries up and the body shrivels, taking the mind with it. So I’m back to being pro sports again, though I will never be a great fan of professional sports ever again.

I’ll instead try to stay active and appreciate sports at the lower levels – grade school and high school particularly – watching kids thrill to their accomplishments. See you in the park.

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