I have always had a love/hate relationship with professional sports. Always enjoyed watching them and appreciate the skill and athleticism that the participants dedicate years of disciplined training to achieve, but the greed, mentality, and brutality both within the sports and what has spilt outside their playing venues has been a consistent source of debate about the industry’s popularity and intolerable conduct by so many involved.
This will be a two part post, partly since I’m falling behind the NaBloPoMo objective of daily posts, but also because I want to try discussing this subject from two angles using the themes of my blog. This one will be purely verbal, the next post will employ the graphic model.
There are many positives we admire and learn from sports. Health, performance, excellence, dedication, teamwork, patience, focus, all come to mind. Yet the imbalanced and overweighted attention and award paid to singular achievement over others creates an environment of idol worship that nurtures overinflated egos as well as extends and reinforces ideas of societies being hierarchal and unequal.
All this adulation, resources, and attention are being paid to skills that in many cases have very limited or even no application outside of the man-made designed and controlled environment these sports take place. Never saw the movie, but remember a laughable attempt to make an Olympic gold medal winning gymnast a movie star through a story surrounding a gymnastics-based martial art they called Gymkata that included fights in places that just happened to have high bars and pommel horse like objects. And this is for one of the most all-around athletic and practical of sports.
Professional sports also appeals to classic survival of the fittest evolutionary thinking, but as I mentioned in my Caribou poop post, evolution is very environment specific. Ironically, the somewhat less than successful lives of many professional athletes outside the confines of their sport, during and after their careers, cements this understanding that success in one place does not translate to others.
So what is it about elite-level sport that continues to draw our attention and manages to gather both athletes and spectators from all corners of the world together? The key aspect, to me, is distinguishing between competition and winning. In the fashion of the self versus public/broader interest themes of my blog, it is clear which practice each represents.
Competition challenges and explores our capabilities. It creates and issues tests and tasks to be undertaken in order to encourage and recognize those who are accomplished at reaching the objectives. True competition is unforgiving but fair and blind to questions about the background and traits of its participants. Excellence is identified and rewarded to those who deserve it and many are inspired to perform their best in their lives in a way that improves our communities.
Winning by itself, on the other hand, is a selfish and corruptible pursuit. Those focused upon attaining the status and reward that accompanies victory are vulnerable to engaging in dishonest, unfair, and even criminal practices in the name of personal success. How you play the game does not matter, whether you cheat, use steroids, or injure rivals, as long as you win. The ends justifies the means.
Competition can bring out the best and the brightest in all the vast and varied aspect of our lives. A mentality focused on winning provides no such assurances, at least not in a way that serves broader interests rather than more self-interested ones.
Aside from the divisions between the two approaches in terms such as honesty, intent, and true excellence, the one area of conduct that distinguishes those who take a selfless rather than selfish attitude to sports is the degree by which they accept someone else’s judgment of their worthiness rather than their own. An external versus internal base of judgment so to speak, and that by itself is much more relevant to understanding the impact of self versus public interest thinking on our society than appears at first glance.
Hope to provide more clarity on this subject in my next post.