This will be a weird thread. I honestly am not sure whether this thread belongs in Game Room, IMHO, Great Debates or elsewhere. It’s like a mix of sports and philosophy.
On the one hand, I love sports. Always loved them since being a kid. Take a keen rooting interest for various players, teams, like I’m sure many if not most Dopers do. Often fantasized about being one of those athletes; what boy hasn’t?
But on the other hand…every now and then, this weird clarity kicks in and I think, “Here are 20,000 people in this stadium, and millions watching on TV…as a few people dribble and throw an inflated-leather ball into a basket hoop.” Or something like…“the FIFA World Cup is the most followed and watched sporting event in the world…over 2 billion people tuning in anxiously to see whether their country can kick an inflated white ball into a rectangular object with netting better than another country can.”
And then suddenly, it’s kind of like the 4th wall has been broken, suddenly I can’t enjoy or get “into” it anymore. It’s like the quote from the nonfiction book Boys will be Boys (about the 1990s Dallas Cowboys,) where one player who played center for Dallas understood how ridiculous it was, philosophically, that he was being paid a huge sum of money to move a leather ball from his hands into the hands of the quarterback behind him.
Feel free to rip into me if you think I’m being absurd. But it’s how I feel at times. I can’t be the only one?
I enjoy sports, mostly American football, and absolutely understand the absurdity and banality of it all at the same time.
But then, life itself is like that. Most of our pursuits and interests are ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But a pleasant diversion every now and then can keep us from staring into The Void.
I get it. I grew up a big fan of baseball, football, and hockey, and couldn’t get enough of them as a kid.
I distinctly remember the day probably about 30 years ago (I was in my 30s) I said to myself, while watching a football game on TV, “this is about the stupidest fucking thing on earth, grown men being paid millions to run around with a ball and try to knock each other down” etc. etc. etc. Every specific detail about football that I considered seemed more stupid than the last. I vowed to never watch sports again.
I kept that vow for a few years. These days, I watch casually and do not feel at all invested in any meaningful way.
Isn’t supporting sports just a logical extension of our tribalism? I’m supporting my team because no matter how bad they are, at least they aren’t your team. Sound familiar? Sports fulfill our inherent need to belong to a group, no matter how stupid it is.
I was born around 1960. There was an old-time baseball player who lived down the street. He told us kids stories from 40 years earlier, when he met Babe Ruth. Some of us kids went to the library to read baseball lore, and statistics.
I am convinced that my interest and capabilities in math and statistics were bolstered by this. I went on to a career in those trades.
I also benefitted from playing Little League and other sports, forming a lifelong habit of physical activity.
Sports have been a good influence on my life. I haven’t followed them in decades. Exceptions are when my college football team gets into a bowl game (or the Pittsburgh Pirates get into the World Series [don’t laugh!]).
I like to think I’ve had a pretty optimal experience with spectator sports.
But to quote Larry David, I don’t “root for laundry”.
I am a life long sports fan. I have played a lot of the sports that I follow and refereed/umpired/coached some of them. I have over the years experience the OP’s weird epiphany - “these guys are getting paid tons of money to do something that they did as children. And that other children are doing right now.” I find now that my sports watching is more like my enjoyment of other entertainments, as soon as I get even mildly bored with what’s happening and reach for my phone I just turn it off and find something better to do.
The oddest bout of instantaneous ennui that I ever had was at the races. I was having a remarkable run of selections, winning money hand over fist, and then suddenly the whole endeavor seemed absolutely ridiculous. Putting money on horses that then raced one another to decide if I won. The fact that I was winning didn’t offer any consolation. Fortunately, or maybe not, it never happened again.
I followed sports a lot as a kid, and played baseball and soccer in high school. But I also went to church as a kid too and tried to have faith, but eventually after being at college, it just wasn’t adding up any more. We root for the teams we root for, and we practice the faith that we have, as an accident of birth. People born elsewhere act differently, and the only reason that is is simply where and to whom they were born. I stopped watching team sports soon after (except for instances like today, being at relatives’ house with the football game on TV).
Individual sports are a different matter, and while I didn’t really follow golf or tennis after stopping following team sports, I eventually got into Sumo, and it’s just something I find entertaining to follow. I don’t care who wins or loses really, but I like following the stories as each tournament happens and as people’s careers progress. I actually stopped watching Sumo several years ago, and just check in on the results and the chatter online. It’s the long-term stories I care about more than the actual action.
I love ice hockey, have for many years. My favorite team is the San Jose Sharks. They’ve been decent in the past, but are terrible right now. I go to a bunch of games every year, and have a great time.
Yet I keep thinking to myself, these people are paid millions to play a silly game. How absurd!
Is it just the money that’s bothering you? If it is, then your problem is with capitalism, not with sports.
Professional athletes, in many cases, particularly if you’re male (sorry, ladies), generate a lot of revenue. They are paid a relatively low percentage of the revenue they generate, but still the amount is huge because they generate huge revenues. This may seem absurd and unfair to outsiders, or even to those who directly benefit from it, but it’s just the system we have.
The absurdity of it all seems especially apparent to me when there is massive celebration when someone’s team has won a series or won the top trophy. I can’t help but think, “Why? What did you – personally – get out of it?”.
I think a lot of the enthusiasm feeds on itself – a particular game or series seems important only because millions of other people think it’s important, which makes it seem even more important. Plus there’s all the big money involved, incidentally coming directly or indirectly out of the pockets of those millions.
Let’s face it, your kid’s elementary school or high school baseball or hockey team wouldn’t get that kind of attention no matter how skilled they were, because without all the fanfare of millions of devoted followers, it’s ultimately just some guys hitting an object with a stick.