February 26, 2012

MUSINGS: The Role of Sports

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For events that have very little meaning besides that which we assign to them, sports are surprisingly influential. In simple terms, hitting a round, hard sphere with a sculpted piece of wood, catching an inflated oblong object, or smacking a rubber disc with a carbon fiber stick is not important, and thinking that the result of that action matters seems a bit odd. But many people do love sports. We assign importance to that oblong object crossing an invisible plane, or the trajectory of that hard sphere. It sometimes brings us joy, frequently pain and always makes us anticipate the next move — hopefully or fearfully.

Sport itself does none of the things that it is claimed to — the national soccer team of Côte d’Ivoire didn’t stop a civil war by kicking a ball around, Sachin Tendulkar, the greatest modern cricketer, didn’t make India cry when he got out cheaply in the World Cup Final and Mario Manningham didn’t make New York explode when he caught that pass from Eli Manning in the Super Bowl. But people reacted in those ways to all of those events. People responded that way because they care.

This raises an obvious, but frequently overlooked question: why do we care? Is it the community aspect of being a fan, having something in common with hundreds, thousands, or millions of other people? Is it the desire for an artificial pick-me-up, that we can feel better by enjoying a team’s sporting success? Is it the aesthetic, physiological beauty of the human body pushing itself in extraordinary ways?

Maybe it’s all of the above. Or just a few. Or maybe it’s because we like making fun of other fans or opposing players (guilty). Different explanations make more sense for different sports. For example, fans of cycling, athletics and swimming probably enjoy the physical grace of the athletes in those sports most, while soccer and football fans are probably more interested in the community aspect.

Unlike most fans, there are very few sports that I won’t watch — I have a hierarchy of interest, but it’s flexible and diverse. If I want to see impressive technique, I watch cricket. For human endurance and power, cycling and running are the best. If it’s pure fan insanity, no sport does that better than soccer (apologies to my fellow Faithful, but it’s undoubtedly true).

Whatever your reason for supporting a team, and whatever your favorite sport, welcome to the Cornell Sun sports blog. Stick around, comment, and hopefully we can have some fun, enlightening conversation. And, of course, go Red.

Original Author: Ben Schneider