Sport, and Why We Yell at It

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May 28, 2014 by lucieromarin

Creating a new life late in life has, in my instance, compelled me to watch hours and hours of sport. Left to myself, I would never have watched any sport, but it’s part of my training, so in the past few weeks I’ve watched six hours of cycling, six hours of golf, eight or nine hours of different kinds of rugby, two hours of soccer, three or four hours of WWE wrestling, one hour of car racing (yawn) and two hours of darts. To make sense of it all meant not only learning the argot particular to each sport, but observing what the spectators got out of it, too. I know why I was watching the golf. I had to. But what brought that fan to the golf course that day? Why did those people wait for five hours to wave flags at the cyclists as they whizzed past? And so on.

I’ve drawn some conclusions. There are two absolute requirements for sport to be watched at all, and two additional requirements for that sport to attract tens of thousands of roaring fans.

First, it must be Fun to Do. There are all kinds of astonishing things the human body can do, but they’re not all fun. Tightrope-walking from one tall building to another is pretty amazing, but it’s also terrifying and dangerous, so it isn’t a popular competition sport.

Second, it must be splendid to watch. The greater the splendour, the greater the number of fans. There are fans of competition darts because a steady hand and a good eye are splendid to watch. But all the Roman civilisation and gender-difference-denying in the world cannot stop the human eye from finding twelve or thirteen athletic male physiques running about more splendid to watch than a steady hand, so football, rugby, and soccer have more fans than darts.

And the additional requirements? The first is that the sport must be possessed of some kind of strategy which can be talked about ad infinitum by other men, not only during the game, but before and after it, too. I think this is a boy-thing. Women can enjoy watching male sports, but I’m pretty sure they’re not watching the sport shows which consist entirely of four men perched around a table discussing potential players in the same way that men in pubs in the novels of George Eliot talked about whether or not the Dissenters would ruin everything for the Established Church. That is, men love to talk Big Strategy, irrespective of whether or not there is anything they can do to execute that strategy. (For the same reason, trad men will talk for hours about who the bishops should appoint and What the Pope Should Do when nothing they say is going to make the slightest difference to what actually happens. Women, by way of contrast, when they’re left to themselves and are not consciously trying to emulate men, tend to talk Small Strategy, by which I don’t mean unimportant, just immediate, practical and achieveable. They won’t talk about who should play for the Under 19s or who should be appointed bishop, but they will talk about how to make Father give us that thing before next Sunday, or how to stop my cousin wear a tuxedo to the wedding, and so on.)

I digress. So, to be really popular, a sport must be Fun to Do, Splendid to Watch, and full of strategy, but the last is the most important point of all. In order to fill a stadium with flags and cheers and painted faces, the sport must be a team sport representative of a real place. Tennis is undeniably splendid to watch, and full of tension and drama, but its players only really ever represent themselves. Spectators can cheer, and gasp, and boo at the tennis, but they never cry. Where male team spots are concerned, they cry. Why? Because there’s so much more at stake. Where a team represents a place, whether that’s a suburb of Melbourne or a country at the World Cup, the spectator invests in his own sense of local pride.

(I’ve noticed, myself, that watching grand finals is agonising. I just feel so gutted for the losers…this, even when I’m not actually sure which kind of rugby they’re playing. It’s just so heartrending!)

Sport, is, in fact, proof that in a postlapsarian world, the idea of some natural brotherhood of man is a complete fiction. Left to himself, man’s instinct is to cluster into tribes which then try to prove their superiority to everyone by raiding the neighbouring village and carrying off its temple gods. Male team sports are our socially acceptable way of casting off all this we-are-the-world business and satisfying our more tribal instincts – which are also why those are the sports, which, from time to time, do descend into actual tragedy, unlike cycling and golf.

However, where there is no tragedy, I must admit that watching guys be tough and energetic is very entertaining…and terrifying. If you don’t believe anything I’ve written, watch this. Here’s another reason men were made (and don’t tell me you wouldn’t be scared if they danced this at you. The other guys are holding hands for a reason):

 

4 thoughts on “Sport, and Why We Yell at It

  1. Charlie's sister says:

    Goodness gracious that’s primitive.

    However I do feel they undo the effect when they stick out their tongues. Then they just look like the poor crazy person who thinks he looks scary.

  2. Amanda says:

    This bit was bothering me:
    (For the same reason, trad men will talk for hours about who the bishops should appoint and What the Pope Should Do when nothing they say is going to make the slightest difference to what actually happens. Women, by way of contrast, when they’re left to themselves and are not consciously trying to emulate men, tend to talk Small Strategy, by which I don’t mean unimportant, just immediate, practical and achieveable. They won’t talk about who should play for the Under 19s or who should be appointed bishop, but they will talk about how to make Father give us that thing before next Sunday, or how to stop my cousin wear a tuxedo to the wedding, and so on.)

    I’d remembered it being part of the apostolate post, and what I’m going to say actually makes more sense if it were in that post rather than one on sport, but anyway, here goes…

    It made me think about what kind of obligation a person has if they’re going to belong to an organisation, and by the fact of belonging to it and being public about belonging to it, endorse what it does. Shouldn’t every Catholic have an extremely well-informed knowledge of everything the church is doing globally, since by being members of the church you’re tacitly endorsing all those actions and judgements? If you feel that there’s no point in thinking about or knowing what’s going on, because you can’t change it anyway, isn’t that time to get out? Because – in the context of the apostolate post – the brutal truth is that what a lot of people see when they see a Catholic is someone who is happy to belong to an institution that does a lot of harm; someone who is morally compromised. And from the perspective of asking what responsibility a believer has for the souls of anyone who has been discouraged from looking for salvation because of Catholics’ implicit endorsement of certain actions of the church, this seems to me to be an extremely serious issue.

    I can’t help thinking that it’s too easy just to sit inside an organisation that promises a happy afterlife in return for compliance, accept its grandiose claims about its role in the whole vast universe, not think too much about it, maybe even enjoy the pleasure of feeling superior to people who aren’t Catholics, and not risk excommunication by criticism of what badly needs criticism. I can’t help seeing, within the ‘roadkill’ model of the person who has been encouraged all along to turn their unhappiness in on themselves, to consider it beneficial suffering; a source of virtue, an inadvertent, or perhaps deliberate, attempt to prevent the person from looking at the external sources of their unhappiness – which might involve challenging the ideas and authority of the church. Like the woman who buys into extreme dieting or plastic surgery, harming only her own body, rather than asking challenging questions about what kind of economic and moral system we have, if so much money is invested in making her feel hatred of herself and so much profit is to be made from it.

    It is a bit crass, I know, to pose a ‘what would Jesus do/expect?’ question, but – well, is the silencing of, or at least failure to examine, the conscience in order to belong to this church just because it tells you that it embodies eternal truths – and you want to believe that it does – really what is likely to earn you salvation? To me it seems unlikely in the extreme. At least if you are deeply engaged with questions of what the pope should do, what sorts of people ought to govern the church, and how they ought to act, and you seriously believe that by having that sort of moral and intellectual involvement you are somehow part of working to improve the church, you aren’t just standing by. I know some male Catholics of the kind you describe, and their immense investment in the direction of the church, their frustration over its dodgy actions, and their constant hope that things might improve, seems at least to be taking a modicum of responsibility for the type of institution they’re supporting, even if I don’t personally think it’s enough.

    One final point that this suggests is that – given that the distinction between the two types of believers was posed as being gendered – is it the case that men are encouraged to feel that their opinions matter, that they may speak and act in the church, whereas women are silenced and diminished, only good for baking cakes, admiring priests and bearing children to be raised Catholic? Does this then raise the possibility that women in particular are discouraged from taking a clear-eyed view of the evils of the institutional church, encouraged to think small, practical and immediate – and might this diminution of their human capacity for critical evaluation and meaningful action come at a high price for their moral standing as humans before God?

    • lucieromarin says:

      Oh, I was thinking more in terms of what counts for recreational talking, if that makes sense. We all have to be equally informed and clear-minded, because we all have to make decisions about where to worship, what to read, what to teach children, and so on. But in terms of how fun that kind of conversation is…I get the impression that it stops being fun for women a lot sooner than it does for men. Having said that, it’s possible that I’m judging all men by the standards of choleric men, who are obviously the most likely to find the airing of opinion a form of recreation!

      • Amanda says:

        Well, sure (although speaking as a woman I would die of boredom if I had to talk for even thirty seconds about how to get men to do things – just asking them seems easiest to me! – and can merrily talk grand strategy for far longer than anyone cares to listen): like I said, I’d mixed it up with the apostolate post in my head. But I think the point still stands in that context, if not in terms of sporting commentary!

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