There is an interesting question that is currently floating around the Internet and other populated areas (read: everywhere) that is actually a very interesting question. People watch other people watching sports—whether it’s hockey, or football, or football, or basketball, and they wonder “Why?”
There’s probably two layers to the answer. One is that, of course, people watch things to get distracted from what they’re doing the rest of the time. It doesn’t have to be sports. There’s reality TV, video games, soap operas, porn, whatever.
But why sports, specifically? The real attraction to sports in a context like this is that it’s basically war. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Sports are how most people would understand war, if we didn’t have examples of war all over the news.
Actually, and anecdotally since I don’t have the sources, British boarding schools were supposed to use sports as warfare training for the young men of Britain since there were British boarding schools at all.
I mean, think about it. Teams of young men in their prime smash into each other ruthlessly, use teamwork and coordination under the supervision of an older man with a clipboard to achieve objectives, and typically risk their bodies to do so.
Eventually, we figured out that killing one another for sport wasn’t something you were allowed to do very much after converting to Christianity (thanks a lot, Emperor Constantine). Once that paradigm shift had occurred, people had to start finding other ways to keep themselves occupied. After all, the Dark Ages were over and the population became, at some point, large enough for not everyone to have to be constantly consumed with feeding themselves.
There’s also the tribalism components. Sports teams are hooked into the framework of community, which itself is a shadow of nationalism. If you wonder what I mean, you should try asking someone born and bred in Montreal, Quebec about hockey and who their favourite team is. It may be so obvious to them that you don’t even get a straight answer, and that’s because knowledge of the Canadiens (the local NHL team) is assumed without speaking in Montreal.
This is why you might have seen on various news networks the New England Patriots visiting the White House. Now, whether you saw this depicted positively (look who’s at the White House!) or negatively (Look how few of them bothered to turn up at Trump’s White House) you saw the Patriots visit the White House, on television. On often political newscasts.
The Patriots, of course, carry a massive nationwide following. The NFL is worth about thirteen billion dollars annually, and each team gets a cut. You can assume that along with that spectacular amount of money that the proportional amount of attention goes with it.
That’s a pretty heavy vote of pride and confidence. Just like the kid who tries to get an autograph with a celebrity to show his friends for prestige, the President likes to be in pictures with athletes who appeal to an audience that may never otherwise see him—even on television.
If you try to remember that snagging votes is the key to everything, you have a good idea about why the NFL who wins the biggest trophy always winds up at the White House. Of course, getting to be in the White House is pretty cool too.
So the question today was, “Why did so few players show up?”
Activism, again. The odd (and by now substantially discredited) claims that Donald Trump is a racist or something aside, people continue to claim racism. Institutional racism, or discrimination, or sexism, or something. The only person who is central to the institutions of the United States (its biggest—and most orange—face) is the President. Therefore, if players disagree with nearly anything (and you could at that point just throw darts at a board to pick one) the person you get to blame is the one sitting in the Oval Office.
Protesting by not showing up is a viable move because of course people treat these human dump trucks as heroes, a lot of the time. The optics are bad if a huge portion of players from whatever sports team it is refuse to show up.
There’s no real arguing that. It is bad optics. I personally disagree with the fact that it should be, though. If ignorant people want to be ignorant, they should also lose any status they hold in the onlookers’ mind.
Why didn’t gladiators side with or against (Servile Wars aside) the Emperor? Because gladiators didn’t matter. Actors? Nope. Singers? No. All low-class forms of life, in Rome. In Rome, generals and politicians mattered because it wasn’t soft-and-cushy time. Rome had it tough, and so it made tough people. Tough people do not care about actors, singers, or sportsmen, because tough people are busy learning how to stab one another for money and food, or to make food for money.
Sports matter, in other words, because stuff is very easy for us right now. People listen to actors and singers and… let’s be honest, gladiators today because there’s no reason not to. Absent actual purpose in people’s life, those “role models” are very important as entertainment and distractions thinly clad in moral messaging and community.
That’s why the Patriots in the White House got traction.
In Rome, winning gladiators were just re-fought until they died. Their purpose was to amuse, after all.