Have Sports Fans Lost Their Minds? (Guest Voice: Steve Baughman)

Have Sports Fans Lost Their Minds? (Guest Voice: Steve Baughman) October 20, 2019

One purpose of this space is to provide a place for “guest voices. . .”

How does a person become a guest voice?

I think they have interesting ideas, which is not a great selection mechanism, but the one I use! Steve Baughman is a sometimes online interlocutor who keeps theists honest (or attempts to do so!) and has interesting ideas. Often those ideas are the opposite of my own thoughts, but that is the wonder of the dialectic!

Attack theism, that’s normal, but Baughman goes further and attacks the Green Bay Packers! Heaven forfend. Following my normal rules, here is his piece unedited. (I added the picture.) I will respond the following day so my reader (hello Mom!) will have time to consider the argument.

Baughman argues that sports fans (of a sort) have lost their minds:

As a long-time San Franciscan I understand the rush of it all. Our Giants in the world series, again! Time to don the orange and gold costumes and yell “Charge!” when the billboard flashes. Time for the shoeshiner and CEO to act like best friends and forget that neither wants their kids to marry the other’s. Time to bond with the tribe, and bond big. T’is the season to feel good, about The City and about ourselves.

I feel the tug, sometimes powerfully.  It harkens me back to my youthful born-again religious experiences. Never being convinced of the truth of the proclaimed dogmas didn’t stop me from signing up and joining the group. These, after all, were nice folks, my kind of crowd, with charismatic leaders, and music that would rouse any catatonic. Joining them promised me a better state of being and belonging.  I took the bait, several times.    

The Giants tribe has much of the same to offer those of us who long to be part of a community, to participate in bonding rituals with an in-group, to have an out-group to dump on. But this time I resisted. For Giants-mania, unlike the religion they pursued me, is little more than a crafty exercise in corporate mind-manipulation. The hoopla is, at best, about more money for the already monied, and, at worst, a massive campaign to dumb down the populace with a barrage of frivolity masquerading as civic bonding. Yeah, a little like what Marx said about religion.       

I am not, I confess, up on my Sociology of Sport. It is complex stuff, with Durkheimians, Weberians, Marxists, postmodernists and feminists proffering brilliantly nuanced competing theories about what sports do for and to societies. My views are much more plebeian; I oppose pro-sports fandom because it is indefensibly irrational and dangerous. 

Let’s take the irrational point. What conceivable reason can sports fans come up with for caring which group of multimillionaire athletes throws the ball through the hoop most, or carries it farthest, or hits it more times over the fence?  

The standard response appeals to local loyalty. Take, say, a Green Bay Packers fan who defends his or her allegiance this way: “This is my home town team and I am a loyal Green Bay resident. This is why I root for the Packers.” 

This seems to me not much help.  First of all, this fan is still cheering a group of grown men as they try to do the little ball more better than the other group does. How exactly does the fact that they are local men make the passion here any less irrational?  

Second, the grown men the fans cheer for are probably not from Green Bay at all. I took a quick look at the 2019 Packers roster and it is hard to discern any evidence of a single player there with a Green Bay connection. Let’s face it, these guys didn’t choose the Packers because they have warm fuzzies about Wisconsin.  

One might perhaps suggest that sports passion has nothing to do with where the players are from and everything to do with the fact that they are here, now, in our town, playing for a team that bears our name. Fine. But how does that excuse the passion over who carries/kicks/hits the little ball better? It is hard, after all, to think of a more mundane activity than getting a ball into XYZ target more than the other group does, even when the ball carrier/kicker/hitter is a local. (Even Camus’ Sisyphus, condemned for all eternity to carry a rock up and down a hill, found a state of contented acceptance in the mundanity of it all. There is in money sports no room for serene acceptance of that sort.)     

But what about the skill involved? Does that not in and of itself make the activity worthy of our attention, passion and support?  There is no question about the tremendous skill involved in what professional athletes bring to their craft. My distaste for the corporate mind bending has never stopped my jaw from dropping when Steph Curry makes three-pointer after three-pointer, or when Roger Federer does one of those between-the-legs passing shots that violate the laws of physics. But let’s face it; sports fans are not there to celebrate skill. If they were, they would not care who won. No, they want victory for their group. And they want it so badly that moods visibly sour when the other group does better with the little ball. What can account for this other than a mass relinquishing of self-awareness and loss of all sense of what really is important on our planet?  

Finally, it is hard to see how this mass ritualistic dispensing with critical thinking is a harmless endeavor. Fans of professional sports cultivate us-versus-them proclivities that are useful to demagogues whenever they need to manufacture a foe, domestic of foreign, to serve or preserve the powers that be. A Hutu trained thoughtfully to appreciate the magnificent skill, grace and beauty of all athletes is less likely to go out and kill Tutsis than one who participates in the tribal “Rah! Rah! Charge!” bonding rituals that are reenacted at professional sports events. Demagoguery despises a populace that self-reflects; so does professional sport.   

These are my primae facie concerns. If you disagree with me, the ball is in your court. 


Steve Baughman is a lawyer and some-time student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Steve was a serious athlete in high school and junior college. He is not anti-sports, and still gets a rush watching runners caught in a pickle. He just refuses to care how it turns out.     




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