There are times covering sports when I just question their purpose. The Baylor football rape scandal, which Thursday cost Art Briles his head coaching job, is one such instance.
Too much cultural importance is assigned to trivial pursuits. Read any pop culture blog — or hell, even many reputable news outlets — and take in the thinkpieces that apply deeper societal meaning to Game of Thrones. Read the responses to critical reviews of video games sometime.
And sports. Oh, sports.
Crumbling infrastructure and woefully underfunded educational institutions all too often defer to the public funds demanded for football stadiums. Too many people tie their own value into the wins of their teams, manifesting in a level of vitriol staggeringly disproportionate to the importance of the topic. How many fall weekends pass without reports of fans pummeling, even shooting one another, because of a game?
Sports media’s complicit in fueling these attitudes, of course. Say your piece on the topic du jour not with the intent of engaging; no, no. Say it with as much conviction as loudly as possible, and assign the utmost gravity to it.
Is your opinion rooted in ignorance, and thus completely toxic? Not to worry, because it won’t be shunned: not if you carnival-bark loud enough. You’ll be rewarded with heightened exposure!
"Not immersed in the story, so my early opinion is a little half baked…But Art Briles being scapegoated bothers me." – @WhitlockJason
— Alexander Goot (@AGoot18) May 26, 2016
Howard Beale’s monologue on the 1976 film Network is the go-to rant for describing the state of media, but a more modern spin from the short-lived series Studio 60 best fits this situation:
It’s making us mean, and it’s making us bitchy. It’s making us cheap punks. That’s not who we are! People are having contests to see how much they can be like Donald Trump?… We’re eating worms for money. Who wants to screw my sister? Guys are getting killed in a war that’s got theme music and a logo? That remote in your hand is a crack pipe.
The implication invoking crack pipe is addiction. So much cultural significance is now applied to winning in sports, victories have grown into their own addiction. Baylor football allowed the intoxication of wins to encroach on basic human decency.
THAT’S NOT WHO WE ARE. Yet sadly, at the same time, that is who we are.
Baylor’s just 13 years removed from a murder cover-up. College football’s less than five years removed from the Jerry Sandusky grand jury testimony going public. As a society, we haven’t learned jack squat.
I understand and acknowledge the inherent irony in someone who covers sports making this statement. I love sports journalism and pursued the field because sports are fun, and I enjoy learning about and sharing the stories beyond the playing field.
I’m not advocating you stop tuning in, or heading down to the stadium on Saturdays. Spending an autumn day with family and friends at a tailgate and taking in a game can be an enriching experience.
But it’s time to kick the habit. The won-lost records of your teams do not define you as a person, and final scores shouldn’t impact your lives.