Columns

The End of Sports

Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP

Turning on the TV the other night for my ailing mother-in-law, a devotee of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, we were pummeled by the public address announcer’s sanctimonious spiel about Black Lives Matter, the social sickness of “systemic racism,” and how these issues were “bigger than the game.” Some of the players were featured delivering solemn, not-entirely lucid homilies about justice for the oppressed and the need for brotherhood among the races. One could sense Saint Kaepernick kneeling in the background. 

I must say I did not appreciate being enlightened by an announcer reading a script he’d been provided by a cadre of sycophantic officials or lectured by a platoon of semi-literate multi-millionaires who had just presumably discovered they had a social conscience. They were being paid, I’d assumed, to play the game of hockey and entertain their fans, not preach like Savonarola to the sinful multitudes. Recovering from a serious operation, my mother-in-law needed something to distract her, and her revered Canucks served the purpose. But I swore off hockey from that moment forward since it wasn’t hockey anymore, it was politics. Would others feel the same way about football or basketball or baseball?

The abandonment of the game was by no means a tragedy but it was a kind of sacrifice. I have always been, like a good Canadian, passionate about hockey. Raised in a small town in snowy northern Quebec, I was ardent about the game to the point of infatuation. Indeed, so devoted was I that I sacrificed my bar mitzvah studies to the sacred art and devotional practice of tending goal for our local teams. In later years I followed the seasonal exploits of my beloved Montreal Canadiens, suffering deep depression when they began regularly missing the playoffs, sympathizing with puck-peppered Carey Price, and contenting myself by hurling fiery imprecations at brain-dead management. 

Sports is a way of shutting out the world of everyday concerns, of boredom on the job, the usual money worries, and the various tribulations that come with ordinary life. Sports creates an autonomous world with its own rules and pleasures and functions as a necessary distraction from the complex and insoluble world “out there.” It was never meant to be corrupted by the politics of the day, as is now the case. Commenting on the televised NFL draft, author Jeff Reynolds says “it was nice to have a little bit of football back while we’re still under quarantine.” American Thinker blogger Bill Hansmann sits in his den, “staring at autographed baseballs,” and wants “to hear the crack of the bat.” Didn’t I want to hear the thwack of stick against puck and see the net bulge and the red light go on? 

I recall some of the greats of a bygone era, the Detroit Red Wings’ Gordie Howe (Mr. Hockey) or his close friend, the Montreal Canadiens’ Jean Béliveau (Le Gros Bill), who off the ice were intelligent observers of life, true gentlemen, and respected ambassadors for the game they played with such love and dedication. I cannot imagine them succumbing to the ideological fads and idiocies of the day, mouthing half-baked platitudes about “systemic racism” and “social justice,” or hobnobbing with anarchists and firebrands. They played hockey, not politics, and in retirement comported themselves with dignity. Today’s athletes, earning in one year what most of us earn in a lifetime—if we’re lucky—are in no position to complain about their treatment by society at large and are under no compulsion to become pious champions for movements they do not really comprehend or self-proclaimed victims of inequities from which they do not suffer.

What they cannot be forgiven is that they have destroyed sports and deserve the only kind of retribution they might understand: rejection by their paying fans. When the regular season is renewed, stadiums and arenas should empty out. Financially obscene contracts should not be worth the paper they’re written on. Let these new evangelists rather march in protests and demonstrations to show they really believe in the clichés they so readily spout. If true to their word, let them spend their time with shills, camp followers, and agents of manufactured outrage learning the rhetoric of envy and resentment. Otherwise, let them do an honest day’s work in a demanding world they have managed to elude. Let them wonder what to do with the rest of their lives, until sanity may providentially return to the sports world. Only then would it be time to hear the crack of a bat or ponder the NFL draft or watch Carey’s lightspeed glove snag a sure goal from a head-shaking attacker.

————————

David Solway’s latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House, London, 2019.