Of Monsters and Men

Day two of the New Year sees me starting Murakami’s, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I love how dream like Murakami’s prose are, he gets you to drift peacefully through his seemingly normal settings until the moment is right and then, bam!, things get absolutely bonkers. I can’t wait to really dig into the meat of the book over the next couple of days.

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Today I found myself in the middle of a sportsball argument, a position that I increasingly feel uncomfortable in. I believe the most interesting questions that we should be asking when it comes to football is not whether or not player [x] is being overpaid or underpaid, but whether or not the sport should even exist. With the inherent dangers of the game being made more and more explicit, it’s become almost impossible for me to watch a game with my conscience howling at me to shut it off. The hypocrisy of the league when it comes to “player safety” is as hilarious as it is horrifying. If I have to sit through one more injury timeout, that features people telling me to buy light beer or a Ford pickup truck, I may lose all faith in humanity.

This is coming from someone who spent the last five years about as obsessed with American professional sports as you can get. I wrote for a sports blog, played just about every fantasy related sports game imaginable, and bet on just about every sport you can think of. I believe at one point I even made a friendly wager over a game of curling. There's something so easy about being a sports fan. The distraction it provides from every day life is as intoxicating as the strongest opiate, only there is no awful hangover waiting the day after - unless you get too deep into gambling and lose your  rent after taking a couple of bad beats. Fortunately, I did not get the addictive gene from my parents, and the worst bets I ever lost involved having to grow an ugly mustache or where a football jersey at a wedding.

There's something really hollow about investing so much of your life, time and emotional feedback to watching sports. It's different for people who are actively participating in a sport, where you are obviously trying to better yourself both mentally and physically. But spending too much mental energy on a subject so petty can be corrosive to one's soul. At a certain point I started hating myself for what I was writing. Don't get me wrong, there are terrific sports writers out there who have been able to find a unique voice and write some astonishing pieces on issues like: homophobia in sports, the exploitation of children in youth leagues, concussions, etc. Not too mention the multitude of writers who are advancing statistical research in regards to the unbiased evaluation of players and how the games are played. It's this kind of honest writing that cuts through the bullshit that bad sports pundits spew out on a weekly basis. It's exciting, abrasive, and a real thrill to read. I often find myself more interested in the new sports journalism vs olds sports journalism dichotomy than I am in the actual games.

Last year I basically took the year off from watching sports. It was not a hard and fast rule that I could not put a game on, but it was refreshing to experience sports purely as an entertainment product and not as something that I had a lot of investment in. For instance I can watch professional basketball be played purely for the aesthetic beauty of the sport. You get enough talented players together and I could just watch them for hours without anyone keeping score. Football is a different animal though. While I've always appreciated the game on a technical level, the sheer violence of the game is just getting to much to bear. These are men at the pinnacle of human evolution who are voluntarily trying to destroy each other. While on one hand it's a terrific metaphor for human nature in general, trying to romanticize what is happening on the field, knowing the repercussions of repeated head trauma is just wrong.

I feel like we are one televised tragedy occurring on a football field from being a massive sea change on how the game is perceived. Perhaps all this madness will slowly come to an end, the Bud and Miller Lights of the world will peddle there wheres elsewhere and the gambling hordes will flock to a new sport, who knows, perhaps curling. But then again, maybe there will be a short time of mourning, some earnest introspection, and we'll all just realize that we are comfortable with the monsters we've become. I'm sure the ancient Romans had a similar moment of crisis.

This is the struggle that's been going on in my mind for the past twelve months or so. It's the kind of petty guilt that is embarrassing to even talk about, but it persists nonetheless. There are certainly bigger issues to feel guilty about, but this is a cross I've been bearing for a long time.  I'm not sure if I'll still be watching football in five years, and I highly doubt I'll encourage any hypothetical children to the game that I grew up loving. Tastes change. I'm not the same person that I was a year ago, and that's a good thing, but finding out you like new genre's of books and music is one thing - turning your back on a past time is quite another. These are new waters I'm treading, and there seem to be monsters everywhere I look.