Sometime ago, I received an email from an Australian friend of mine, who, among other things, wrote:
Been thinking about how you and I love sport, how it really means something to us, how we cheer for our teams and are gutted when they lose. Yet we all know that sport (particularly non-participatory sport) is just another way the bosses keep the people distracted from the main game.
Is it? Well, yes. My friend is right, and he certainly doesn’t need to convince me. After all, here, on this blog, I’ve alluded to ‘the massive narcotizing effect of professional sports’ and waxed critical about the shamateurism and excesses of college football. The puzzle, if there is one, is why folks who consider themselves alive to the political dimensions of the social, economic and cultural phenomena they encounter, who are ever so ready to offer critique and revisionist commentary, so blasé about professional, big-budget, franchise-based sports, all of which are so very distant from the game played in neighborhood parks? Why are they so ready to believe the patently false premises of college sports?
I do not get off lightly in this charge-sheeting, for despite the critical commentary mentioned above, not only do I watch sport, I write on it, thus possibly diverting myself from more critical political engagement with the pressing issues of our day. (To be more precise, while I watch many sports, I only write on cricket, thus ensuring that here, in my adopted ‘home’, I have consigned myself to being treated as an oddity of sorts.)
My writing on sport, of course, is what enables me to excuse my extensive and expensive investment of time and energy in sports spectating; I reassure myself that I use professional sport as a lens through which to examine topics that are of broader interest to me: nationalism, labor relations, media studies, race relations, xenophobia, technology, ethics, and so on. (My philosophy department at Brooklyn College offers a class on Philosophy of Sport; I still hope to teach it some day.) Some readers of this blog have noticed that my posts often flirt with memoirish inclinations; that tendency is present in my cricket writings too, thus allowing me to explore a life via a recounting of its entanglement with a cultural endeavor. This is certainly of cathartic value to me, and hopefully, will might even be of some value to others, including, most promisingly, my daughter. (Well in the future, obviously; right now, she can’t read.)
Perhaps I apologize too much; sports is leisure, and spectating, along with participating in it, brings us diversion from our weekday preoccupations, surely a much-needed escape valve. And yet, as the word ‘diversion’ indicates, we aren’t too far from the worry expressed by my friend: that we are just being ‘distracted from the main game.’ The least lame rejoinder I can offer to this indictment is that if our gaze is to be diverted to sports at all, then it must always be a critical one, alive at all times to its political ramifications. Anything less than that is to be co-opted, as desired, by the ‘bosses.’