College football is underway, as is the NFL, and Major League Baseball’s playoffs will be here soon. So maybe it’s a good time to start finding a cure for Big-Time Sports Syndrome (BTSS).
The symptoms of BTSS are many, but they include the following: Applying face paint; wearing jerseys with someone else’s last name on the back; donning silly hats with horns or Swiss cheese; sitting on the couch from early morning through late evening on weekend days in the fall; memorizing names of strangers (some of whose names you may carry on your back); memorizing statistics that have nothing to do with the real world; and of course, talking about how “we” won a the most recent game, when in fact your last athletic accomplishment occurred decades ago.
These symptoms can have relatively minor effects. But there are more serious symptoms as well. BTSS is associated with sitting for long stretches at a time, with only occasional breaks for getting up to find another tray of junk food or make another trip to the can to relieve oneself. It’s also associated with a sedentary lifestyle, with all the accompanying ill effects on health. There are also mental health issues. In one variation of BTSS, individuals whose team loses a major contest report being depressed for days afterwards. (True confession: I once suffered from this at the start of every year, after major bowl games.) Losses by favorite sports teams can also lead to grudges that poison mental health for a lifetime, sometimes reaching even to the second or third generation. In some extreme cases, sports-related alcohol consumption has led to falling-down-drunk death.
Though there are spillover effects from these symptoms, they mostly harm the individuals afflicted by BTSS, and their families or co-workers.
But sometimes, BTSS has more wide-reaching effects. The financial and other corruption of college sports is well known, for example, bringing ruin to college athletes and tarnishing the reputation of universities.
BTSS has also driven hundreds of afflicted individuals to storm government buildings, demanding taxpayer funding for their condition. Important public priorities, such as education or health care — or how about some tax relief? — get shortchanged. Taxpayer funding is sold by delusional and self-serving claims that sports stadiums are a boost to economic development. (Left and Right agree: they aren’t.) BTSS also induces foggy thinking about jobs, with afflicted individuals making the claim that the economic vitality of a region depends on having the chance to wear face paint in a stadium with 60,000 other people, whereas what actually attracts people to a region are jobs.
The effects of BTSS are more than monetary, as I have already suggested. BTSS degrades the political culture, something which is already sick and in need of help. To start with, when Helgabraid Nation and its counterparts succeed in getting taxpayer subsidies for Big Time Teams, we have declared: low-income individuals must be taxed to fatten the wallets of multi-millionaires. Is that the mark of a just society?
But perhaps even worse than the economic result of subsidies is the poison our political leaders drink to put them in place. They do things such as say “I’m going to vote for the stadium but I hope [the funding legislation] doesn’t pass.” They say “we need to respect the business privacy” of the millionaires who ask for sugar, and keep the public in the dark. Political leaders–people entrusted with the awesome power of government to do the public’s work–violate open-meeting laws, even in the state capitol, to hobnob with the business lobbyists who help engineer legislation to their benefit. To top it off, sometimes the deals are “financed” by schemes that are at best, half-baked, and at worst, midwifed by a lie. In either case, the desire to satisfy the demands of BTSS can overcome sound economic reasoning, not to mention procedural rectitude.
So what can the general public do about BTSS? Whether you’re seeking to cure yourself or the body politic, the answer is the same: Stop. Stop watching the games. Stop paying attention. Stop buying jerseys. Stop getting your thrills through celebrities who wear jock straps.
Now, I can understand the logic of resisting this advice: (1) I’m paying for it anyway, so why not?; (2) Tricks performed by highly skilled athletes can have an aesthetic appeal (Wow! Look at that catch!); (3) It gives you something to talk to other people about.
So I’m with you there, skeptics. Still, try to be strong. Fortunately for me, the NFL holds little appeal. (For one thing, the games are just too long and have too many commercials.) The NBA and NHL? Pfft. But baseball parks can be pleasant venues, so if someone gives me a ticket and I don’t have anything else planned, I may go to the game.
My biggest weakness, though, is college football. That’s because it supports academics. Right? Right? Oh wait. Let me look into that, please.
Two years ago, I looked for ways to save money. One thing I did was drop the ESPN tier from my cable TV subscription. I have to say that I do miss it, at least for a while, on most fall Saturdays. But then I remember that I have decided to do something better than watching sports: Living my own life. This means I: Spend time with my family. Read a book or listen to a podcast on an interesting subject. Play the piano. Go for a hike or bike ride. Go skiing or snowboarding. Whatever. I do something other than eat chips and watch 5 minutes of football spread out over 3 hours of banter and commercials.
So don’t be passive. Be active. Don’t be a fan of someone else. Be a fan of you.
Will I eliminate BTSS from my own life? At the least, I can put it into remission.
Can I cure the body politic and improve public health? Only if enough people join me.
<Comments received at GraysOnTrays.com>