Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reclaiming Sports

A number of sports stories in the news lately. Today, the trial began for a football coach from Louisville, Kentucky charged with reckless homocide for running his team so hard in the heat and depriving them of water that two of the kids ended up in the hospital, one of them, a fifteen year old child, died. In Texas, the girls' basketball team from the Covenant Academy displayed a true spirit of Christian charity, beating an opponent 100-0. After running up the score, the school apologized for continuing their full court press and taking three-pointers, but the coach Micah Grimes said that there was nothing to apologize for. In a basketball game between Houston and Arizona, Houston player Aubrey Coleman intentionally stepped on the face of Arizona player Chase Budinger, showing no sense of empathy or concern for him afterward at all.

The culture of sport has become a repository of everything poisonous in our society. I am not anti-athletics. I was a division I athlete. Sports helped pay for college and I want my children to learn what sport has to teach them about physicality, team work, humility when things are good and bad, focus and hard work, finding that your limits beyond where you think they are. But the virtue of sport is eclipsed by the culture, enforced by many coaches whose warped and dangerous picture of masculinity (which has infected women's sports as well) hurts the children, hurts the game, and hurts the society which venerates athletes above those who make actual contributions to the culture.

How do we get it back from them? How do we put sports in their proper place as enjoyable? It is something you do for fun, for health, for socializing. But not if you look at high schools or even the older divisions of little league. Do we cut our losses and form other sporting communities with a different ethos? I think the popularity of soccer, for example, is a reaction to the unhealthy hyper-masculinty of the football world. Similarly, ultimate frisbee is not merely a great game, it is a culture unto itself with a funky spirit, a character that makes it the game it is. Bowling is perhaps the best example of a sport with its own way of being in the world.

Is this a cop out? Is it realism to admit defeat? Can we reclaim sports?