Rome is Burning

I think events at three separate athletic events this past weekend opened a window into the unhealthy soul of American culture. Perhaps I should start by saying that we should all consider whether the fact that there were actually a bazillion athletic events in America over the weekend might be sufficient evidence that our culture is in ill-health. And I happen to enjoy sports very much, so I’m not writing as an anti-sports snob.

Anyway, back to my three events. First, after a horrible call (in my view) in the Braves vs. Cardinals game, a sufficient number of troglodytes decided to show their unhappiness by bombarding the field with debris. There is no doubt that Braves fans had reason to be unhappy, but not to the point of civil unrest! If a blown call in a sporting event produces that kind of result, something is clearly out of balance. The fact that so many beer bottles where readily available to throw only adds color to the very sick picture.

The second event is far less dramatic, but still was striking to me. In the eighth inning of the Orioles vs. Rangers wild card game being played in Texas, Josh Hamilton was showered with boos after striking out. (I suppose he can be thankful he was not in Atlanta or he might have been pelted with booze!) I was amazed. Here was an anchor player of the Rangers’ American League Championship teams. He led their team—and was second only to Miguel Cabrera in the whole league—in home runs and RBI. He was the American League MVP in 2010. Any way you look at it, Josh Hamilton has been part of the core for a very good run by the Rangers. Yes, he hit a bad patch here at the end of the season, culminating in the strike out in the eighth, but to shower him with boos? Seriously? Amazing.

I didn’t see the third event, but became aware of it because of the attention it garnered. In a football game on Sunday afternoon, the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs was knocked out during the game and the home town fans cheered about it. It should probably concern us that by itself, this would probably have passed by without much notice. But another player on the team, offensive tackle Eric Winston made a powerful and poignant statement about it to the media in the locker room following the game. His central point is spot on–it is disgusting that people would cheer the injury of another human. I would add that it is even more despicable due to the fact that they were in no way cheering the act that caused the injury (e.g., a big hit by one of their own players). In other words, the only thing that they took pleasure in was the injury. I’m sure those who cheered (if they can even remember it now that they have sobered up) would say they were cheering the fact that a new quarterback would have to come in, but that is bogus. The glee expressed came at the injury, not the replacement. Winston is right. That’s sick.

Each of these incidents exposes the twisted value system which dominates our culture. What was once considered a recreation has become an obsession. Obsessions pursued without the proper restraints of civil society produce ugly spectacles like this past weekend. The fact that athletic events no longer are viewed as part of civil society is evidence of the problem, not an excuse for it. Public drunkenness is almost universally condemned, unless you are are at a game. Public profanity is generally frowned upon, unless you are shouting it at the opposing team. Wishing for someone else’s harm is normally considered a wicked vice, unless it involves sports (or so-called sports like mixed martial arts fighting).

Eric Winston correctly pointed out that football players are not gladiators. What he didn’t say directly, but properly assumed, is that modern fans are rapidly embracing the role of spectators in the Coliseum. Riot if you don’t like the outcome. Signal thumbs down on the life of the athlete who does not deliver. Cheer with bloodlust when someone you don’t like (for nothing other than sport) gets hurt.

We are becoming like Rome on its way downhill.

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