Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Inspired by Sports

I have often wondered what role exactly does sports play in society. The closer it is to "bloodsport" the more I can dismiss it as reminiscent of the gladiatorial spectacles of the Roman area in which the worst of human nature was demonstrated by what passed as entertainment to the masses. "Bloodsport" is a technical term that historians have used to classify those sports that have "blood" as their goal. Ancient Olympic games would not fall into this category, but the gladiator games of ancient Rome would, along with similar expressions of it throughout antiquity.

Some have wondered whether there are present day expressions of this since the death of the opponent is technically not what the crowds cheer for in modern society. I disagree though, asserting that close cousins can be found in the boxing or UFC arenas. In these cases, though technically not "bloodsport," harm of the opponent is still the goal. The broken nose, the cut eyebrow or the cracked rib is a definite objective encouraged by coaches and cheered by audiences. This does not even address the harm inherent in seeking to knock out the opponent. The long term damage possible to the competitor through repeated cerebral bludgeoning was well demonstrated by the aging Muhammad Ali. While boxing may be excused somewhat for its stringent rules and regulations, UFC (The Ultimate Fighting Championship: or mixed martial-arts) can hardly be granted the same leeway. These are present day echoes of a gladiatorial past that pave a possible pathway back to that depraved tradition of ancient times. The spectacle of WWE heralds its coming.

Having stated the above, it must be acknowledged when sports, through physical in nature, do not demonstrate such close ties to "bloodsport." Football, baseball, hockey, basketball, soccer, rugby and many others can be physically challenging, even perilous (requiring protective gear), yet they do not have the harm of the opponent as the stated goal. The goal is instead the end-zone, home plate, the net, the hoop or the "goal." These sports still serve a function for society that cannot be dismissed as appealing to the depraved human nature calling for the killing blow in the ancient Colosseum. Nor can they be similarly dismissed as entertainment for the masses either, merely lacking a violent objective. They serve another function altogether that meets a genuine societal need, that being: inspiration.

It would appear that societies throughout time have required, and thus venerated, heroes that have performed such feats as to inspire the masses toward greater excellence in their respective fields. Note how the Hebrew women sang about the hero David after the slaying of the giant (1 Sam 18:7), or the Spartan remembrance of the brave "300" against the Persian invaders, the Greek tales of Ulysses or Rome veneration of battlefield heroes as well. All societies maintain an implicit need for heroes because the human condition is subject to inspiration by examples. But what of the society that does not value inspiring "warriors" as much because either the battlefields are too distant (geographically or historically), or they do not allow "bloodsport" as an entertainment source? How are they to have the inspiration need met that only heroes can meet?

It appears that the above mentioned non-bloody sports (though I am fully aware that blood is sometimes spilled on the field, the ice or the court) meet the societal need for heroic inspiration without the undesirable necessity of harm to the contestants. For this reason, these sports are to be celebrated and encouraged as a community pillar. In addition, those who compete must acknowledge the societal function they play and soberly consider the weight of that responsibility when seeking to play on a professional team. The above Nike commercial is an example of the kind of inspiration that sports rightly offer. Let young men and women, seeking to compete in such public games, thoughtfully enter into them with full knowledge that they bare the responsibility of inspiring the onlookers, leading them into their own excellence as did great heroes of history before them.

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