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Professional Sports are a waste of Time

Professional Sports = Waste of Time

A Non-Sports Fan’s View of the Super Bowl

Written by Jon Eckblad

Watching professional sports is a colossal waste of time. You know it’s true—come on, search your heart. The players who aren’t even from the cities they’re representing, the ever-changing rosters, the bloated salaries, the clichés, the platitudes, the endless commercial breaks—aren’t there better ways of spending your time? Read a book, learn a language, go hiking—go out and play a sport yourself.

I’m not saying this just to be provocative—I really believe it.

But lest you think I’m just another anti-sports wimp who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, know this: in my early adolescence, I religiously followed the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. I knew all the rules, all the players, all the stats. The sweet heartache of being a sports fan was all too familiar to me—the ups, the downs, the hope, the despair.

But somewhere around the age fifteen, I put, as the Bible so eloquently puts it, childish things behind me.

I can sense the hackles coming up. Take it easy. We all waste time in one form or another—it’s part and parcel of modern life. Watching sports is particularly problematic for me, though, because I’m a card-carrying contrarian, and when it seems like the majority of my fellow Americans (males especially) are really into something, it makes me not want to be into it.

And there’s sports’ influence, which dumbs down our education system, politics, business world, and everyday conversation. The sports paradigm turns everything into a zero-sum game, it oversimplifies complex conflicts and problems, it converts the various sides of a debate into “winners” and “losers.”

That being said, I sometimes indulge myself in the occasional game, simply as an interesting sociological experiment. If that sounds snobby, that’s because it is. There’s nothing wrong with a little snobbery—all it means is you have taste.

I particularly like to watch the occasional football game over at my friend’s place. Said friend is a major football fan, and so sitting there with him and making fun of what I’m seeing has the double benefit of exercising my mind and pissing off my friend. There are fewer greater pleasures in life than pissing off one’s friends.

So yesterday I watched the Super Bowl at his place. The San Francisco ’49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, as you know, were playing. My friend was rooting for the Ravens. To show you just how meaningless and arbitrary professional sports team loyalty is, he was rooting for them because they are the sometime-rivals of his beloved New Orleans Saints. I, on the other hand, decided to root for the ’49ers because my friend was rooting for the Ravens.

The Ravens are named after the poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, who lived in Baltimore for a good chunk of his life. As a lover of literature, I suppose I should be pleased with this, but it’s really just annoying. I’d like to know just how many of the Ravens players have read Poe’s poem in its entirety. I’d like to know if the coach even has. And if he has, what did he think of it? These are futile questions.

Before the game even started, my friend warned me to keep my snideness to the minimum. “If you come,” he said, “you will have to unironically support a team.” I told him that would be hard for me—very hard—but that I would try my best. My friend said that that’s exactly what he doesn’t like about people our age—the ironic detachment that doesn’t allow anyone in their twenties or thirties to sincerely and passionately enjoy anything. “Yes, it’s the curse of our generation,” I agreed.

But surely there is a place criticism and humor. And being judgmental. If there’s anything our generation avoids more than sincerity, it’s being judgmental. And if you think a much-beloved institution like professional football—with all of its bloated self-importance and syrupy sentimentality and shameless commercialism—is not a fair target for some serious satire, irony, sarcasm, and/or judgment, what is?

Here are a few funny things I noticed during the Super Bowl:

The national anthem. It was beautifully performed by Alicia Keys—but I’m uncomfortable with the coupling of patriotism and professional sports. It implies that you either aren’t a real American if you don’t like football or, likewise, if you do like football, you’re a real patriot.

And with football in particular, there’s an aggression and militarism there that’s hard to ignore. Football mimics the battlefield. I’m no pacifist, but the patriotism on display at the Super Bowl subtly reinforces the idea that the principal expression of love for one’s country is brute force and overcoming the enemy.

The shameless sponsorship of every facet of the game. The Mercedes Benz Superdome, the Jeep Halftime Show, the Bud Light Whatever. Not only does this crass commercialism degrade the supposed dignity of the game, but it also feeds into the same mindless brand-consciousness that plagues professional football itself. When you root for a team, you’re basically rooting for a logo, a certain color set, and maybe a few general personality traits of the coach and star players. Any meaning is lost—it’s merely the ritual of meaning.

The halftime show. Nobody ever enjoys the halftime show, football fans—especially football fans—included. Why do they bother? If for no other reason, it’s a pitiful sop thrown to “the ladies” who feel obligated to catch the game with their men. The commercials serve the same purpose—they’re primarily there to entertain the people who don’t really like football. Nothing wrong with that, I guess—but both the halftime show and the commercials tend to be noisy, annoying, and dumb. Even the so-called “smart” commercials are dumb deep down.

The sheer efficiency and ability of the players. Besides perhaps having more of a geographical connection to the towns and institutions they represent, what makes high school and college sports worth watching is how they’re a little more rough around the edges. Stupid mistakes and accidents happen more often, things are more awkward, the teams operate less like well-oiled machines—which makes it all so much more real and human.

There is a point when things become too efficient, too advanced, and all of the rough and tumbleness is drained out. So it is with professional sports. Most of the players are super good and super fit, and the errors they commit are usually relatively minor. And the strategies their coaches implement are usually meant to minimize risk and ensure a safe victory.

That’s why the most memorable parts of Sunday’s big game were when the Ravens punter rushed forward with the ball (a very unusual play) and when the lights went out. Real drama comes from what’s unexpected, and professional sports do their outmost to eliminate the unexpected. Professional teams are, after all, money-making machines first and a group of athletes second.

The tears of the winners and losers at the end. I know a lot of time and energy and thought went into this past football season. I know that the players genuinely love the game, and that winning is very important to them. But why is it acceptable for an adult male to cry about a game? Grow up.

11 Responses to “Professional Sports = Waste of Time”

  1. Arthur Milano February 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    Ouch. A bit harsh, but not off the mark even a bit. I would LOVE to see a counter to this from the “Pro” side of the argument. Could be a nice forum for rant exchanging.

  2. Michael February 4, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    Well written, though I disagree almost entirely. I’m not exactly a super fan. Hell, I miss most games on Sunday because I have a wife and a child and am far more interested in them than a mere game. That said the Super Bowl is meant to be spectacle, theater for the masses. The commercials are dumb but these companies keep pouring money into them because there’s obviously some market research that shows that they work. Sometimes it’s ok to like something as arbitrary as the Super Bowl. It doesn’t make you less of a man and it certainly doesn’t erode your intellect or your writing ability. I like football. I also like books, men’s style, cooking and chess. Am I not allowed to find enjoyment from a wide range of pursuits?

    Listen Jon, I will never judge you–or any other man–based on your love or hate of any particular sort of sport. That’s not how I was taught. If my son grows up to be an athlete I’ll be perfectly content, as long as he has a proper perspective of what athletics are and why being a good, well-rounded man is of the utmost importance.

    Anyway, great piece. I don’t agree with you but man can you write.

  3. RV February 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Indeed – well written! I love competitive sports, but people who live and die by “their teams” are ridiculous! Pro-athletes are super coordinated people who play a certain sport extremely well, that’s all. Just like Hollywood actors, they are not moral leaders or heroes, just talented people. And, the colossal amount of money flooded into these pro sports is insane!

  4. sven G. April 9, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    Well written. I think people who have time and energy to be sports fans likely have far too little going on in their own lives. How do people have time for such a strange, corporate-fueled ritual that has no bearing on their own existence?

    So many constructive things could be accomplished in that time. If only the passion people have for pro sports could be funneled into an equal passion for bettering themselves and helping others.

  5. Mark October 25, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    @sven G.: I’m glad to see another person seeing it this way!

    I will watch sports. I like to watch hockey, college football, and world series. I love to see the teams I like win.

    But what brought me to looking a page like this up, is when I was at a bar having some food, a guy a few seats over started talking statistics looking to have a conversation.

    I don’t understand how people can get so involved with the game to be tracking statistics, unless you are looking to make bets. Seems like a big waste of time in my perspective, but I guess to all their own.

  6. Regan4000 November 27, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    I find that religion and sports go hand in hand. These fans are simply looking for something to latch onto which will automatically accept them. “If I wear Blue and White and cheer on the same team that everyone else is cheering on, I’ll actually fit in with a group of people.” The same goes for religion.

    It takes little mind-power to watch a TV screen and cheer on a certain logo because everyone else is doing it.

    It’s cowardly. It means you are someone who is horrified of going against the herd mentality, and it means you are simple-minded because you can’t think on your own.

    I was a huge Maple Leafs, Raptors and Blue Jays fan until I was about 18 and then finally realized that none of this shit matters, and that I want to actually be interested in things that I’m interested in, and not simply follow the herd.

  7. Lou January 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

    In my ‘spare time,’ if that’s what you could call it, I write books. And I participate in real sports to stay fit and enjoy myself. The problem with spectator sports is that after a certain very early stage nothing new is learned. Teams and players change, and the style of play may evolve a little, but it’s really a controlling addiction for the masses watching it. Am I a snob? Maybe. But I try to avoid wasting my time. None of us has much time, so let’s spend it productively.

  8. ward January 20, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Pro sports are so commercial and corporate. Fans are vulnerable so the herd mentality, noise and stimulation is an bait to build a big money making empire. They name the arenas after called naming rights and the die hard fans spend a fortune supporting their teams.

    No argument can be made that watching sports is beneficial to anyone. With the time spent following and watching the games a person could engage in any number of self improvement activities. A person could spend a season or two learning a foreign language instead of devoting the time to TV and going to the games. So after a few years of spending hundreds of hours in front of the TV what does a person have to show for his time. Absolutely nothing.
    So it really bowels down to your values. Do you live through others and have few interests or want to advance yourself in life.

  9. Rhea Khan February 7, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Brilliant piece – I totally agree and you have put it across so well. There are interesting parallels between the sport paradigm and militarism and the war paradigm and the winners vs losers mind set… it is a lesser evolved approach and hearkens back to a more primitive era of human development (the concept of ‘loyalty’ – almost religious like – towards a team hearkens back to this primitive instinct as well) A more universal concern should be the tremendous amounts of money which is used to commercialise sport and not to forget a large portion of taxes we pay go towards funding many ‘national’ sports events. There is a common agenda between politics on a nation level and the motivation of the masses via sport loyalty… and at a deep level I have always found that specifically sinister… overall sport really is an incredible waste of time energy and resources.

  10. Ronnie February 13, 2014 at 3:49 am #

    I agree with this piece. Watching sports is a waste of time. Here in England and Europe we are obsessed with what Americans call soccer. I wasted a good part of my youth watching this sport. The fans are probably the worst behaved and most violent out of any sports.
    I watch the odd game now and then but I’ve found better ways to spend my time such as learning two musical instruments.
    I only wish I had started earlier.

  11. Paul February 23, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    I disagree softly and I am not really a sports fanatic, though I do closely follow football and boxing. Let’s take the last sentence in your first paragraph: “Read a book, learn a language, go hiking—go out and play a sport yourself.”

    Now, I may not need another language to learn, I might not enjoy hiking and maybe for one reason or another, the option of doing the sport I follow is not available to me. From this perspective, none of these activities are more useful. I understand how such activities would be more conducive towards “personal development”, but heck, is personal development more important than having fun? And don’t we need to have fun in life?

    That said, it is true that watching sports, as well as most hobbies, can be detrimental in your pursuit of goals, both in your profession and in your private life. In this case, you should undoubtedly defer such hobbies and prioritize your real needs. But provided you meet your needs, i.e. you’re on track with your career and personal life, then you’re left with freedom of choice, over which there really should be no judgement. There really is no rule governing how one should spend their free time, nor should there be one. It really is up to the person. I know people who are very very smart, yet still follow football games. Why? Because they enjoy it and after a week of toil, they feel entitled to spend their time in whatever way they want.

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