in Things that make you go "hmm"

More Touchdowns: In Support of the Super Bowl


I don’t usually watch it but I love the Super Bowl for many reasons. Not only is football a sport that takes athletics, strategy and both physical and mental discipline to incredible heights for the players, and a cultural institution, but it’s also a representation of war, like chess or Guardians of the Galaxy. Why is that great? Because humans seem to sadly gravitate towards this kind of violence. Presidents often benefit from a boost in popularity by starting wars and distracting from other issues. But over time humans have developed activities that appeal to that frightening need for war without the actual mass violence.

For some this means sports. For others it can mean watching cinematic hobbits fight dragons, or playing actual Dungeons & Dragons. It’s prejudicial and self-righteous to pretend there’s much of a difference. You’re not more intellectual for guessing how the Doctor will commit genocide against the Daleks one more time than if you were guessing your favourite coach’s next play.

Sure, violent sports are violent but they’re also mutually consensual, controlled and frankly fun as faq. So when I hear that over 110 million people tune in to watch the Super Bowl, beyond appreciating the sport itself I mostly see one phenomenon: millions of people enjoying a recreational replacement for war rather than lobbying for the real thing.

So I say, more touchdowns, and less war.

Additional notes:

  1. This was originally posted to Facebook on Super Bowl Sunday.
  2. I don’t usually watch the Super Bowl, or sports in general, but not because I don’t enjoy watching them. I happen to prefer playing to spectating (rugby over American football for that matter) and scheduling televised sports into my life isn’t a major priority, but watching games is fun. Especially with a bunch of people watching at the same time.
  3. The value of the Super Bowl as a cultural institution is much more than you realize, because it’s not religious or political! In North America we have holidays like Christmas and Easter, which are completely religious. Even the pretence of a “holiday season” is built around connecting the major holiday of the dominant religious culture of Christianity with the minor holiday (Hanukah) of a minority religion. Then you have political holidays, and even Thanksgiving has a questionable past.
  4. In fact the political neutrality of sports is both a major strength and weakness. On the one hand it could distract people permanently from real political issues, but in practice it doesn’t seem to. Instead it’s a way of bringing people together around something fun and neutral enough as to be inclusive. Studies have shown that sharing common goals and activities reduces feelings of racism and other forms of prejudice. If you want conservatives and liberals to find common ground, get them rooting for the same sports team.
  5. It really is silly that the people who decry the meaninglessness of sports (eg. “oh look, he sportsed the ball all the way to the other end of the sportsing area”) often love living vicariously through watching Legolas or the Dark Knight or the umpteenth Dr Who incarnation battle the forces of not-looking-the-same-as-you.
  6. This. [xkcd, obvi.]
  7. One of the ways of improving the health of children is to get them to play more sports, and if you want to show you value athletics, watching sports as a family and showing appreciation for the hard work that goes into training and playing can really help.
  8. Hopefully it’s clear I’m not saying everyone should love watching or playing sports, but geeks and intellectuals should be sensitive to their value on many levels.

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