Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Outside the Aviary: "This Conversation is Ending (Starting Right Now)."
Talking points have destroyed the way the brain processes certain news items. For instance, certain debates have been utterly destroyed by point-counterpoint argumentative stances. Abortion, racism, intolerance, torture, etc.—they have a negative connotation to the idea of rationality. Sports have especially embodied this negativity. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that arguing a point, in the debate format, is a rapidly dying idea. The fragile American psyche has met its match; discourse has destroyed us all.
I work in a place where discussion is the root of everything. I discuss the merit of books, the knowledge of high and low art, and most of all sports. Are sports a force that give us meaning? No. They provide a convenient escape without real distraction. They are more abstract than television or movies (high artistic quality) and provide the base instinctual derivatives we crave (low artistic quality). Debating sports is both necessary and futile. There is little to be truly “right” about, yet so much to discuss. The normal debate axis centers on people with little to no sense of understanding insofar as they are idols. Their talent supercedes their humanity. Discussing the personality of a sportsman is as pointless as analyzing daytime television.
For example, I went to military school with Plaxico Burress (and Chris Perry). I know for a fact that he is a vapid soulless man that, at least a decade ago, used more derogatory terms than an imaginary meeting between Ty Cobb and Jesse Jackson could produce. Every Sunday, however, I hear his praises from on high. People cheer their hearts out, and I sit in a dejected corner sipping whiskey and coke. When Plex nabbed an Eli Manning pass to defeat the Eagles this year, I screamed and knocked over a chair. I had on a Redskins shirt. When Giants’ well-wishers inquired as to my rage, I replied, fuming, “I know him. I lived a floor above him and he would spit on your faces just as soon as hand you a quarter.”
Granted, this is a biased argument. Personally knowing a sports figure doesn’t give me license to say that all of them are worthless or degenerative. It does, however, give me license to remind the sports-viewing audience that when they delve into the personalities of their culture, sports will always prove at least one thing: cheering for a uniform is better than encapsulating the personage of the players. For every Reggie White or scrappy David Eckstein there will be a million idiotic boat parties, paternity suits, players who quit on their coaches, alcoholic ne’er do wells, coaches abusing their pulpits, or Leonard Little types getting third chances. And we will cheer.
The discourse, then, needs to shift a bit. Inasmuch as we need to invade the lives of these individuals, we can easily remember why we don’t want to. More sordid than politics, more unsavory than the world of hip-hop, the world of the athlete revolves special treatment and intolerance more than any other field. Re-examining the thought processes of a world of excess will ALWAYS produce results. The sports outlets of the world will have materials as long as the privilege of sports heroism is condoned. A rule of thumb: a large percentage of athletes have no extensive knowledge past their sport. This is fine. Their profession is to excel in sports, and ours is not. The public discourse should, then, stop at accomplishments. Otherwise, disappointment and fan-player relations will continue to decline (beer throwing fans and field tackles of first base coaches, anyone?).
Sports talk has always had the possibility of combining the rational and rugged—fans of every type can talk about their teams’ chances without having to wonder if their wide-receiver has a self destructive problem. This transcends the logics of point-counterpoint asthetic (shhhh, don't tell DISNESPN). Unlike music or celebrity, the personality of a player barely matters. The inner-monologue and outside lives of the modern sportsman is unimportant. Like celebrities, assume that your life is different and leave it at that. When the human angle dissipates, the statistical and normal escapes that we desire will still be there. The heroics may seem a little more involved and less prosaic—less the work of a collection of assholes than (albeit privileged) superior athletes.
Besides, it’s hard enough watching this Redskins season without having to worry about the undeniable stupidity of Sean Taylor. I am willing to forgive Plexico for what he is while cheering against him all the same. His uniform is a different color than I like. That’s all the reason I need.