If It’s a Game,
Why are They the Enemy?
About twelve years ago, a sociology professor in a Massachusetts university launched a serious study of violence in sports and at sporting events. Dozens of similar projects have followed, but it has been difficult to learn if any solid conclusions have been reached. One young college senior interviewed for the project told this story.
The student had spent the last three years at a med-school and was finishing his study in a sports-medicine program. He invited his parents to the season-ending football game; it would be their last opportunity to spend time together before the Christmas holiday.
He started by saying, “I thought my mother was a very loving and maternal woman. But at a college football game, there were only seconds to go and both teams were clustered just short of our opponent’s goal-line. When the ball reached the quarterback’s hands, my mother yelled for our team to “Kill that quarterback.”
All at once she was a completely different person. My Dad, on the other hand, was his usual calm and composed self. He tilted his head and spoke into her ear, “Gloria, that’s somebody’s son.”
The student continued, “I never saw my mother in the same light again. She had demonstrated a side of herself that was cruel, ugly, and shameful. We never talked about it, and all things considered it has been forgotten. For years!”
The set of postcards featured here are British, manufactured by Millar and Lang, Ltd., Glasgow and London, circa 1907. They are not in mint condition, but the images are well done and each one is artist-signed with an “A.A.” They reminded me of this story.
It seems like the boys-at-play are seven, eight, or nine years old. All mop-haired kids with wide-eyed spirit and equipped with unmeasured energy. They are dressed in team-shirts. The orange team members seem to be the aggressors, with fists flying, kicks to the face, and head-butts into goals. The red team members are doing their level best to defend against the onslaught but don’t seem to be faring well.
On rare occasions sports fans witness some strange encounters between players that many fans have roundly criticized. Those people are much like Gloria, the mother in this story who sees athletic rivals as an enemy. When they see opposing team members talking after the last inning of the game, or giving each other a hug or handshake, it drives them crazy. And above all they want to know why. Did they conspire to win or lose? Or were they college roommates?
With professional sport salaries so far out of control in the last couple decades, there is no way to measure the true worth of a baseball game, a football game, or a soccer match. Everything a player says or does is suspect. If this is hyperbole, defend how a twenty-two-year-old college graduate is worth – $32 million a year to play a game!
No one is suggesting that words screamed from the bleachers by a 62-year-old mother of a med-student would insight violence, but there isn’t always a calm-thinking husband sitting next to the screamer.
Many fans attend sports events to distance themselves from their nagging spouses, demanding bosses, or uncontrollable children. And for some reason, being witness to the often-semi-controlled violence of a game, helps them get though a seeming endless week of dull routine.
When that craving is not satisfied other outlets for aggression must be found. Appallingly, many times that energy is channeled into crime or violence. It goes without saying that most sports fans want to see aggression at the game contained, but a yardage penalty just isn’t enough. If you question any of this, watch any day’s sports broadcast that originates from a bar, tavern, or neighborhood watering hole, and you will see that the fans go from, “Rah, rah” to “I hate those bums” at the swing of a bat.
There is a line in an old Broadway drama where a character has time-travelled to America from the 17th century. He describes a walk-through town that took him by an appliance store where television sets were displayed in the front window. He tells of what he saw on the TVs. “There were teams with eleven players – a strange number – running up and down a field chasing a strange shaped ball. It seemed to be a war-game.”
Everyone today is waiting for a different … goal.