Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Putting the limp in The Olympics

I got a DM the other day from a friend/reader who wanted to know what I thought about Xavier Onasis's latest post about The Olympic games.

XO, noted sword collector and anti-pants revolutionary, outlined a cogent, point-by-point argument for why organized sports are a waste of effort and resources.
If we took all of the money in the world that is WASTED on sports and poured it into basic scientific research in life sciences and physics, we would have all of the energy we could ever use, everyone could live forever and no one would have to go without the basic necessities of life.
The sentiment sparked quite a discussion in the comments section. On the one hand, XO argued how dumb and wasteful competition and pets are. On the other hand, the commenters pointed out that competition leads us to excel and channels the animal spirit that would otherwise become destructive.

In actuality, this is yet another example of a logical fallacy that has become all to prevalent in our culture's discourse today. XO and his commenters have stumbled into the fallacy of a false dichotomy.

In the case of athletics, we don't have to make a choice between the two viewpoints above. They are not mutually exclusive. Do sports represent a waste of resources? Of course they do. The average salary for NFL players was just under $1.8 million. The league minimum is $295,000 and you get that you were on the roster for at least 3 games. That's a lot of cabbage to throw at grown men for playing a child's game!

At the same time, you can't dismiss the positive aspects of organized sports -- especially for youths. Participation in sports and athletics (as well as arts and music programs), helps teach character traits which are valuable -- even vital -- to a healthy functioning society.

Traits like discipline, focus, teamwork and good sportsmanship, winning with humility and losing with grace. These are traits that help people excel and succeed when they're not on the playing field (or court, or slope, or rink, or what have you).

It's unfair to downplay the contributions of athletes and former athletes to worthy charitable causes. Of course, let's not delude ourselves into thinking that all athletes (especially the Pro ones) are altruistic. Certainly we've seen many examples of selfish and antisocial behavior by the athletically elite.

But this selfishness extends way beyond sports. In fact, if you're making an accounting of what our society wastes money and resources on, you can add Hollywood to the list (does any movie really need to cost $500 million?), Washington, DC (the $46,000 toilet seat cover is legendary), professional wrestling, fashion, etc.

Indeed there seems to be no end to the many ways we can invent to waste our time and money. You can look for all kinds of conclusions and meanings in this phenomenon. Is it just that we have way too much idle time? Are these diversions, these trivial enjoyments, the things that make life worth living? Is figure skating really a sport?

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  1. Some people just loathe the idea that there are those individuals who identify a market and move to meet it, thereby making money--money that the loather really wishes s/he had in his/her own pocket. Thus, has it ever been: Envy wrapped up in some sort of ostensible heroic altruism.


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