I’ve been ruminating on my long-held position on the world of so-called “professional” sports. Obviously, right?

I’m a Denver native, and outside of pot and skiing, what else do we have to talk about besides the Broncos?

At least that’s been my airport experience. You run into folks sharing your misery waiting for their plane. You sit on a bar stool at the wings joint and talk to the guy next to you. It follows a pretty rigid formula:

  1. where are you headed?
  2. business or pleasure?
  3. where are you from?
  4. Oh, so you’re a ______ fan?
    1. No

…and conversation ends abruptly. Unless the person you’re sitting next to is particularly loquacious or perhaps inebriated. Results here vary.

I liken it, as many may, to Rome’s gladiatorial games. You give the people mindless indulgence, and they stop paying attention to how you’re robbing them (financially, politically, intellectually…).

Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator shone a light on it. Commodus sought to return to Rome something that had facilitated corrupt dictatorship prior to his esteemed father’s reign. And he did. He distracted the masses with spectacle while he castrated the Senate.

Yesterday, the US of A’s Super Bowl 50 may have achieved something similar.

Consider, these exist:

The Redskins Rule uses the Washington Redskins last home football game as a predictor of presidential elections. Whether you put any store by it or not is immaterial. Someone thought it up, irrevocably linking sports and politics.

The Super Bowl Indicator: In 1978 Leonard Koppett created the financial SBI as a spoof. Except it turned out to be weirdly accurate. Again, whether you put any store by it or not is immaterial. Someone thought it up, irrevocably linking sports and Wall Street.

Here’s a little follow-up “ology” from 2012. A semi-relevant jaunt down Super Bowl mystery science theater from The Guardian: The Science of Super Bowl-ology.

Moving on, I’ll state my position: “Professional” sports shouldn’t exist. I have to qualify that; the word “professional” is what makes the statement true. Paying people to recreate is no bueno. Put all that money into something else.

Having said that, I’ll allow that professional sports is something for people to relate over. In truth, it is nearly universal. I’ll even go so far as to say, since the internet happened, the dislike of professional sports is now something people can (safely) relate over.

Your favorite and mine, Matthew Inman has in the past suggested a similar state of mind:

Comic Image
Excerpted from one of Inman’s comics, note the gloss beneath the image.

In the spirit of context, here’s the full comic from which the piggers image is taken: Why Working from Home is Both Awesome and Horrible. Oatmeal and I have this thing in common, see? It resonates.

Not much in the way of fandom, but at least awareness. Like watching that spider to see if it’ll come any closer, or just mind its business. To wit: The Current State of Things (from The Oatmeal’s Facebook feed during SB50)

And yet, I love games. I did my part as a youngling, I played. I get it. I love the idea of games. I consider myself a gamer. Not really an athletic one, though.

I’m a snob about it, actually: 99% of board games are, to me, ‘bored’ games. I prefer cards. Better still, computer. Best: tabletop PnP. Or tabletop laptop- and tablet-assisted pseudo-PnP.

My family is full to the gills with pro league fans. There might be some give-and-take here, the few who aren’t necessarily perched on the edge of their seat investing vast amounts of emotional energy in hoping at the screen, but they participate because it makes their friends, spouses, and kids happy. For each of those there’s another who is in the business of teaching children how to recreate (yep, coaches)¹.

There’s even a kind of pageantry to it. The food is brilliant, the craft beer is delicious, and the fan costumes are amusing. The weird superstitions tickle your folk-fantasy nerve. People say odd things and scream borderline gibberish at moments that are apparently exciting.

Maybe there’s something to it? The sense of belonging is real, when you walk into a room and someone is looking out for you: they stuff a rumpled but relevant t-shirt in your hands so you can disguise yourself among the roiling mass. You can get a beer or a cocktail, and even communicate with the natives. You can elevate your conversation to other things: work, family, kids, film…

Did I mention the food?


¹ Yes, they do more than just teach recreating, there’s the whole host of skills and whathaveyou, like “functioning as part of a group.” I’m just picking on the easy targets.