Sports Are Non-Essential

Maybe the circus doesn't always need to come to town

Hey Everyone, it’s your Going Downs sports correspondent and Claire husband, Brenden, back for another Wednesday column. 

Yes, today we are going to talk about sports and not in the way that we usually do here at Going Downs. I know. Normally, athletics chat only happens in this newsletter when the reality star spouse of a jock lies about a vacation. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you memorize route trees or bullpen lineups. 

I’m going to talk about why sports matters so much to our ridiculous country. If you aren’t a sports fan, you might be wondering why the psychotic decision to play professional and college sports this year is being considered. I’ll do my best to explain.

Sports are at the center of American life. Whatever you think of the US, we are an empire, and empires tend to have bread and circuses as rewards for its subjects. In America, our bread is a McDonalds or Buffalo Wild Wings in every community. Our circuses are sports. The Super Bowl is the most watched television event of the year. Some colleges survive because of their athletics programs. The NFL alone is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Because sports are our “circuses,” there is a conflation of sports with the American military. Not only are sports often discussed in military terms. A quarterback is a “field general.” A great three point shooter is a “sniper.” A great relief pitcher is an “assassin.” But the military actually pays professional sports leagues a lot of money to forge a relationship between the armed forces and sports in the minds of the populous. 

If you’ve watched an NFL game, you’ve probably seen a massive American flag unfurled on the field, a military honor ceremony, or a jet fly over at some point during the broadcast. And of course, Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality was perceived as some sort of unpatriotic sacrilege by millions of Americans.

If this analysis feels a little cynical or overblown to you, just look at the recent discourse around the possibility of canceling sports because of COVID. Even though some athletes have already contracted COVID and died, and a number more have been laid low by the virus, sports are marching on. While the NBA seems to be doing okay playing in their “bubble,” it looks like baseball and football may not make it to the season as their players are falling to COVID by the dozens.

If these seasons get cancelled it won’t be because of morality, but simply because too many athletes have contracted the virus to field a credible season. 

If essential workers are those that help keep people alive, there is no reasonable world in which athletes are “essential.” And yet, political leaders and journalists have been shaming athletes for considering putting their health above the profits of their league owners. 

Ted Cruz called out NFL players who are choosing to opt out of the season rather than risk death. It is worth noting that many NFL players are over 300 pounds, and weight is a comorbidity for COVID.

Even more outrageous is criticism directed at college athletes considering skipping the season. College athletes are unpaid even though universities make millions off of players’ names and likenesses and college coaches are usually the highest paid public employees in a given state. 

Very literally politicians are asking young men and women to risk death for nothing.

The governor of Mississippi went as far as to call college football “essential.” 

VP Mike Pence said it’s important for the season to happen. 

President Trump has used the few outspoken collegiate scabs using the hashtag #WeWantToPlay in an attempt to bully collegiate athletes into taking the field.

And he added…

Conservative politicians are not alone in their attempts at forcing athletes into action. Bro-friendly misogynist sports site Barstool Sports has taken a similar line. Same goes for self-styled manly man sports commentators like Clay Travis and Deion Sanders.

And you can just read the comments on announcements like this one that the PAC 12 is cancelling their season to see that there are a fair number of everyday sports fans who want the teams they love to risk the health and safety of their athletes and their families for their entertainment. 

To bring all of this full circle, legendary college football coach Lou Holtz recently went on FOX News and compared the imperative that college football happening this fall to the Allied forces storming the beach at Normandy. 

It may seem insane to compare defeating the Nazis with playing in the Cheez-It Bowl, but here we are.

COVID continues to rage in the United States because many Americans refuse to alter their way of life one bit for the well-being of others. Sports may be the most prominent metaphor for American empire and the center of the discourse, but the same insane logic is being applied to all sorts of things that simply don’t need to happen if it means we can save lives. 

We don’t need to go to movie theaters. We don’t need to go to bars. We don’t need to have bachelorette parties. We don’t even have to have school. But, in America, we believe that there is something special about our way of life that is worth dying for. We have expected the citizens of other countries to die for it in various wars of recent decades and now we expect the troops we watch on TV every Sunday to die for us as well.

Sports are not essential. Here’s hoping that America realizes that before it’s too late.