I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as the Winter Olympics, the Super Bowl, and baseball spring training approach. Sports, at any level, can be corrupt and corrupting — as much as I appreciate, say, the intensity surrounding SEC football, I worry about the role of football in higher education (as anyone with a working brain should). Also, to say that the cultures of most mainstream sports have gender- and race-related problems would be a gross understatement. Further, I worry about my participation, as a viewer, in propping up sports like boxing and football, which can and sometimes do kill their participants.
But my love of sports — of viewing sports, specifically — hinges on an understanding that they are better than they are bad. Cities may spend exorbitant amounts of money funding stadiums, but as a Baltimore fan, I know what the placement of Camden Yards and the Ravens stadium did for the economy of south Baltimore (stadiums done right, in other words). When I interviewed an old Baltimore politician, years ago — a guy who saw the city through some periods of intense rioting during the late 60s — he told me that the Ravens and the Orioles are what bind the city together. It's true, I remember thinking, that people from all walks of life can come together over sports loyalties. At a larger scale, I remember watching the US play Ghana in the 2010 World Cup, in a packed bar in southeastern Wyoming — how overjoyed and raucous and wonderful that crowd was.
I am also aware that all sports are not necessarily alike in what they do to us, as spectators. Only watching baseball, for example, would I find myself crying as I watched a man who played for the team I hate — to the most essential core of my being — leave the mound for the last time. Football, I'm starting to think, may make us worse people, while I do believe baseball makes us better. I'm starting to hate how much I love football, actually.
But anyway — I watch. Football, baseball, anything exciting. I watch because I need an outlet for superstition, because I like that fleeting sense of being part of something big, because I like being witness to the tensions and interplay between physical logic and magic. I watch because I'm from a place that really needs something to believe in.
What about you?