I was never much of one for playing organized sports mostly because I wasn’t terribly athletic but partially because I had issues with being on teams. Partially those issues were because those kids were assholes to me but partially because I just don’t like working with others being the vile misanthrope that I am. Also neither of my parents were into sports so that probably had something to do with it as well. My girlfriend on the other hand was a huge sports megstar until she destroyed her knees. Also she’s was a girl so there was a ceiling there knees notwithstanding. I don’t know if the market for lady basketball overseas had developed at that point.
Amongst the many other weighty discussions we have where we solve the world’s problems and reveal our secret horrible beliefs that aren’t fit for public consumption we semi-regularly talk about sports. My position as an outsider is that is generally society would be better without the religion of sports. Her position was an insider is that sports are awesome shut up nerd! On my old blog once I wrote a long “essay” about how college sports are a plague on our nation and should go away – I got even more vitriol from that post than I did on the one when I was accused of making light of the suffering of Vietnam veterans (I wasn’t).
Yesterday I watched a documentary about how being an Olympian drives you insane. I think the things they were talking about can easily be thrown like a net over sports in general – although it’s probably a little different because most of the sports they do no one cares about ever, not even during the Olympics. I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s struggles with mental illness or say that anyone else doesn’t have their problems but they handily failed to gain my sympathy. Probably because of the above reasons. Maybe they just didn’t do a good job of making their case or maybe it’s just my anti-sports prejudice but the message I felt they were carrying was this –
“I am good at sports, why don’t I get special treatment?”
They were trying to make a lot of hay over the fact that no one outside of their family and friends was trying to help them. Which didn’t get far with me because that’s true for everyone. But that’s not actually what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is this documentary and others I’ve watched about CTE and various other things where sports people are being wrecked all have the players saying the same thing.
“After I destroy my mind and body playing sports I need help.”
None of them suggest that maybe the problem is the sport itself. No says “we should not do this sport”. Granted that’s probably because that’s a different documentary, you’re not going to put the bitter regret people in your documentary about how sports are great. Regardless this seems to be a normal thing that most sports people think. It’s always about repairing yourself after the fact, not avoiding the damage in the first place. All these people who talk about how horrible everything is and was always follow it up with “I don’t regret it at all.” As a non-sports person I find it fascinating.
Wrestling is not a real sport, but the people that do it are really annihilating themselves for our amusement just like real sporting sportsters. I used to listen to a podcast Lance Storm did, which was great, and like many podcasts there was a part where he would answer questions. One question was about how he was doing physically X number of years after retirement and he said something like (paraphrasing)
“I can’t bend my neck to the left and I have to walk up the stairs sideways because of my hips, and I can’t lift my arms above my collarbone but overall I feel pretty good – I got pretty lucky.”
Which is empirically an insane thing to say. But I feel like this sums up most of the sporting people in the world “I destroyed myself but its cool”. I remember I asked Megastar one times if any part of her would rather have the cartilage in her knees back instead of the experience she had playing basketball and she said “no” without any hesitation or equivocation. It’s a very intriguing phenomenon to me, probably because it’s not related to my experience. I’m exaggerating for effect of course, but it seems similar to me if someone said “Alright, we need to make sure I get really good medical care after I crush my foot with this sledgehammer.”
I’m not really anti-sports of course because I’m a casual fan of many sports, and I watching wrestling still which is probably physically much worse that most sports. But intellectually I’m not sure it’s a good idea to encourage this kind of behavior. I’ve said before that the appeal of sports for me is that it’s one of the few places that you can see real drama. In a book or a show or a movie, even a really good one, there’s not a lot of surprises. You know Walter White isn’t going to die until the end. You know Sherlock Holmes is going to solve the case. You know that Thanos is ultimately going to be defeated. Sports is a medium where you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Superbowl 50 is a good example. The Carolina Panthers looked like world beaters. The Broncos looked as sad and pathetic as a superbowl team could look. They had million year old quarterback Peyton Manning who at that point wouldn’t turn his neck or throw the ball more than 15 yards. The Panthers had Cam Newton aka the Great Humungous who looked like a million bucks. The Panthers defense looked like they could shut down anyone – because they had all year. “Everyone” assumed the Panthers would crush the Bronocs, not only that but people thought it was such a mismatch they were afraid for Peyton Manning and the Broncos players. People were legitimately concerned that someone was going to be badly hurt on the Denver side.
And what happened? The Broncos kicked their ass. Invincible Cam Newton sucked and what’s worse bailed on a play because he was worried about getting hurt – the worst sin an athlete can commit. If you’re not willing to snap your arm reaching for a loose ball you’re not a team player. Old man Peyton reached into his bag of tricks and did enough. The Broncos defense was dominating. The much vaunted Panthers defense was nothing special. If it was a movie you’d roll your eyes – the massive underdog wins and the old veteran who never won the big game rides off into the sunset a winner? The cocky assholes get their comeuppance? Come on Hollywood! Be realistic! But it happened. For real.
Sometimes Reggie Miller scores 8 points in ten seconds in an elimination game. Sometimes the Titans pull of a crazy kick return to win a playoff game. Sometimes a lifetime 150 hitter bangs out a walk off home run to win the series. Sometimes a Zamboni driver comes in at goalie and wins. Sometimes North Appalachian Technical Refrigerator Repair School and Taco Stand kicks Duke out of the tournament. Sometimes Fatso MaGee knocks out the world champ. A lot of times, most of the time even, things go exactly as everyone thinks. The Bulls crush the Lakers. The Cowboys humiliate the Bills. A real MMA fighter beats the Christ out of a wrestler. But sometimes some crazy shit happens. Sometimes the underdog does win. In dramatic fashion. At the last moment. Before the eyes of the nation.
I’ve lost the thread of what I was saying, but the point is that I am a sports fan and that’s probably not the right thing. I have a friend who’s ultra-freedom man (or at least he acts like it sometimes, I wonder how much of that is him playing devil’s advocate) and I assume he would say that people should be allow to wreck their bodies is that’s what they want to do. I’ll give that answer partial credit, because part of the reason I feel we have society is to protect people from their own bad decisions. Maybe his point is though, that instead of doing that with laws and rules and top-down telling people what to do it’s more a matter or addressing things at the root and on a personal level? Maybe I’ll ask him some day.
In conclusion Cinderella Man is a pretty good movie.
As someone who is mostly hopeless at physical skills, I can see where it would be very intoxicating to be really good at a sport. That feeling where you’re in a flow state. And then on top of it the cheers of the crowd. Worth wrecking your knees? Maybe. Because by the time we’re in our 60’s our bodies are going to hell anyway, even if we didn’t do a sport.
Not me I take great care of my knees