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