American Culture

Sports: it’s how America deals with big social issues

SEC-football-modern-plantation-systemAhhhh sports. For whatever reason, we’ve decided that the best way to deal with our most pressing national issues isn’t directly through our elected representatives, but metaphorically, through sports.

Guns, drugs, income inequality, violence against women, gender identification, homosexual rights—you name it, our sports venues are where those issues are debated.

This week end was a big one on the metaphorical battlefront.

First, we have the issue of the SEC. When fans chant “S-E-C, S-E-C” while a long-historied southern team is winning over one from the north or west, it’s not really about who’s got the better football team, it’s Southerners reminding the rest of us that the plantation system does work, that having young black men injure themselves for no wages in pursuit of millions for the plantation owners is a still a peachy system if you’re not one of the young black men. Well, this week wasn’t a great one for linen suits and mint juleps. Teams from the mighty SEC got beat up by the likes of perennial non-powers The Citadel, FAU and Georgia Southern. Yes, SEC teams won two of those games, but in overtime on their home fields. Even the big wins weren’t all that impressive. Idaho hung 34 on Auburn (Official University Motto: If we’re winning, we’re cheating) at home. You can bet you’re going to see some overseers – eh, coaches – replaced in the next few weeks.

Second, and speaking of coaches, sports took on the issue of religion vs. secularity. For the most part, college football coaches come in two flavors: evangelical Christian nutcases like Dabo Swinney and Mark Richt, and evangelical Christian hypocrites like Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel (now president of Akron University, but recently elected to the Ohio State Hall of Fame even though he was banned from college football for cheating). But there are some old school coaches out there, some hard-nosed pragmatists from the good old days when football players were expected to play football and not waste their time on classes, and in turn they’d be paid handsomely in donor handshakes and coed hand-jobs. So it’s with great interest that we see that nominally-religious Mike Leach, who idolizes pirates and was fired from his last head coaching job for locking a concussed player in a dark shed, then had to spend two years wandering in the wilderness as penance, is once again winning football games, this time up at perennial PAC doormat Wazzoo. Who cares about the Wazzoo score? The real score is: Pirates 7-Pious 0.

Third, we decided to put Jim Collins’ theories to the test. Collins is a professor who wrote a very popular book called Good to Great, which argues that groups of ordinary plodders often outperform superstars. Of course, mediocre corporate apparatchiks everywhere grabbed for this argument like it was a winning lottery ticket on a windy day. (Btw, his success established a whole new genre: business books for losers. Malcolm Gladwell has even argued that thinking is overrated. But I digress.) Nowhere is talent more despised than in Philadelphia, where the basketball team has become known as the Tankadelphia Sixers. The city’s professional football coach, Chip Kelly, decided to put the idea that mediocrity leads to greatness to the test. During the offseason, he chased away his talented (but lippy) players and replaced them with a group of docile but less talented yes-men. His team, 10-6 last year, is now 4-6 on the season and got blasted 45-17 yesterday at home by a mediocre Tampa Bay team.

Next week we’ll take on another sports topic: The Anti-Christ: Belichick or Saban?