Sports

It's a March Madness Madhouse! A Madhouse[*]

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Read this commentary in the Cincy Enquirer on the devious impact of the NCAA basketball tournament and then ask yourself: Is this a Thomas Pynchonesque parody or an unironic comment on the lack of news devoted to "serious" topics? Or maybe just one more disappointed University of Dayton Flyers fan?

Absorption in sports hurts our democracy. The media contribute to the problem with endless front-page stories and 16-page special sections in the Enquirer and endless bloviating broadcasts on the airwaves. This precludes adequate coverage of taxes, immigration, government spending, Iraq and the like.

Thus some can talk only of "the game" and care nothing about what is important in the world. There are so many issues that need our attention, issues that affect our lives and our future—but they get pushed aside for whatever sport is in season. Those not swept up cannot escape—short of becoming troglodytes—and can only shake our heads and worry, as Juvenal did two millennia ago, about the peril of "bread and circuses."

The author, Michael Eshelman, is a law student at Univ. of Dayton and he encapsulates perfectly a mentality that scoffs at other people's tastes without bothering to understand them (this happens all the time in cultural contexts, where critics, rather than trying to understand the popularity of a particular work simply sniff at it). "What is the attraction that enthralls so many?," he writes, without bothering to, I don't know, ask anyone. It seems to me that, when talking about sports, or art, or politics, for that matter, the onus to explain is really on the side of the person asking the questions, not the audience.

Eshelman does make one solid point: The true cost of sports in America is wrongly–and mightily–subsidized by taxpayers.

More here.

And go Ohio State. And assuming everything happens the way it should, beat Florida (this time).

[*] Obscure headline explained here.

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  1. Nick Gillespie has an odd idea of obscure.

    Also, Hoya Saxa.

  2. “Madness of crowds hurts democracy” I thought Democracy was, in and of itself, the madness of crowds

    “What if they’re creating an army of them? Holy shit. It must be a conspiracy like in the X-Files… *Roswell* style! This little monkey could be the fuckin’ damn dirty ape responsible for the fall of the human race. In this world gone mad, we won’t spank the monkey- the monkey will spank us. And after the fall of man, these monkey fucks’ll start wearing our clothes and rebuilding the world in their image. Oh and only those as super smart as me will be left alive to bitterly cry – ‘*you maniacs*! Damn yous! Goddamn yous all to hell!'” -J&SBSB

  3. I just have to add… Go Bucks!!

    Having said that though I often sigh about OSU’s $100 million dollar athletic operating budget and the ridiculous facade of amateurism in the NCAA.

  4. Well, the NCAA Tournament does suck … now that the Tar Heels are out!

    God, four days later, and I am still inconsolably anguished about the way Carolina handed that game to Georgetown at the end.

  5. If things go as they should, Florida will beat Georgetown in the Final.

    You know, I like sports, too, but it’s hard not to occasionally wonder at the time, money, and sheer effort that many fans put into the game. I don’t want to force them to stop, but I don’t have to like it. Any kind of entertainment should be a sideline for most people, not the central purpose for being.

    Bread and circuses, ghafla (“giving oneself up to gadfly distractions”), blah, blah, yadda, blah.

    Or, perhaps, continuous victory has made me jaded. Oh, no–I have the disease, too! Egad.

  6. Say, what’s obscure about the headline? I mean, let’s face it, around these parts, Planet of the Apes is bigger than The Simpsons.

    You damned dirty apes.

  7. DAAA-da-da-da-da
    GO GATORS!!
    DAAA-da-da-da-da
    GO GATORS!!
    DAAA-da-da-da-da
    GO GATORS!!
    Come on Gators, get up and go!!!!!!

    (I never really liked that last line)

    Oh yeah, I find sports useful in education. Every time somebody rattles off obscure statistics about their favorite teams and players, I point out that this means there is no *real* reason why they can’t learn one or two simple formulas.

  8. Gotta see Georgetown beat Florida in the finals, so I can call my brother and gloat.

  9. What’s “March Madness”?

  10. This sounds suspiciously like the devastating attack on fashion that I wrote for my high school newspaper. Except where I used a pseudo-intellectual reference to Murex, he’s used a pseudo-intellectual reference to Juvenal. I therefore conclude with 80% certainty that this “law student” is a 16-year old who needs a girlfriend.

    PS Go ‘Topes! Or aren’t they in it this year?

  11. [Obligitory baseless racism accusation]

    NCAA basketball players are being compared to apes?

    [/Obligitory baseless racism accusation]

  12. This is the most inappropriate allegation of elitism yet, Reason.

    And that’s saying something.

    There simply is nothing in the article to support such a charge. It’s just a shady attempt to manipulate your readers.

    This guy, who we disagree with, thinks he’s better’n you! Whatever.

  13. Go Lady Vols! oh, and, er, that Florida men’s team too.

  14. joe, when a guy drops “bread and circuses,” he most certainly is expressing disdain for the hoi polloi.

  15. joe:

    I’m a tad confused about your post. Isn’t the entire point of Eshelman’s commentary that he knows what we should care about better than we do?

  16. The only reason to look forward to March Madness is that it means the whole tedious ordeal of basketball season is finally grinding to an end.

    How’s that?

    (lacrosse, on the other hand….)

  17. JasonL,

    No, not really. If he was pushing a more “elevated” form of entertainment over college hoops, that would be one thing. But he’s not – he’s arguing between entertainment and serious public affairs.

    If I tell you to turn off hoops and watch opera, that’s elitist. If I tell you to stop watching TV because there’s a hole in your roof, I’m just being practical. It isn’t a commentary on watching TV at all.

  18. Mr. Gillespie’s point here is what exactly?

    That to criticize any aspect of our culture simply means that you don’t understand it or that you wish to project your superiority over the masses?

    Maybe the guy is just pointing out that our society would be better if we weren’t obsessed with sports so much.

  19. BTW, what’s up with Nick supporting the bloated, evil government propaganda camp known as “Ohio State” instead of the pure and clean private Georgetown University?

  20. I’d like to see the sports fans who have weighed in here respond to a similar complaint about coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s death crowding out coverage of serious news. Would you have the same disdain for a writer who made that point?

  21. “Maybe the guy is just pointing out that our society would be better if we weren’t obsessed with sports so much.”

    “If I tell you to turn off hoops and watch opera, that’s elitist. If I tell you to stop watching TV because there’s a hole in your roof, I’m just being practical.”

    To me, these are both elitist sentiments. At some point, you have to respect that I’m an adult just like you, that I may have made a decision about what is important to me, and that probably the hole in the roof thing only holds if one values the same things you do.

  22. Go Lady Tigers! Do it for Pokey!

  23. I’m not a big sports fan. Don’t like football, baseball, or basketball. However, if you enjoy it, go for it.

    A friend of mine who’s a huge sports guy once pointed out to me that he didn’t like the fact that so many people try to wrap sports up in life lessons, politics, or an indicator of society.

    As he put it “I like sports BECAUSE its a diversion, not in spite of it.”

  24. The problem all of these “people don’t pay attention to the right stuff” articles, and their are tons of them, is that it is really just a cover for saying “why doesn’t everyone agree with me?”. If people actually started spending all of their efforts they currently spend watching sports supporting political causes this guy doesn’t like, whatever those may be, something tells me he wouldn’t be to happy. This is the same as the moronic “won’t don’t young people vote more” pieces that get printed periodiclly, almost inevietably by liberals. Everytime I read one of those, I always want to say “yeah, I don’t think evangelicals and skinhead youths are nearly involved enough in politics, we need to get those people more involved.”

    I agree with this guy, people need to stop wasting their time watching sports and start doing something meaningful with their lives like agreeing with me about everything!!

  25. My $.02:

    Sports provide the catharsis and joy that can only come from the artificial clarity of a structured competition. There is, in real life, almost no reason to jump off your couch and pump your fist. If you think it silly that people might be so lured in by a sporting event, consider the last time you were moved to do something like that. How much is it worth to be able to do that sometimes?

  26. JasonL,

    Whether having your home open to the elements is more important than the last two minutes of a game is not up for debate.

    Try to actually think about, rather than merely reacting to, my example. You know that keeping your house from falling apart is a higher-order concern than watching basketball.

    You know that, right? It’s not really a matter of opinion. It might hurt your feelings if someone points it out to you, but that’s not the same thing as their being an elitist.

    What you’re saying is that there are no objective criteria in the world, just feelings and opinion. Well, that’s bullshit.

  27. Dan T. and joe, unite with me brothers in crushing the sports-obsessed oppressors! That way, UF will be the final champions in NCAA football and basketball. That’s a perfectly fine way of ending all of this. Then we can move on to silver jumpsuits and total enlightenment.

    In all seriousness, the elitist accusation is a little much. I don’t have any more patience with someone telling me that I should listen only to opera and watch only Shakespeare (both of which had quite a bit of the urban rabble following in their day, incidentally) than anyone else; however, I don’t think questioning the amount of time and effort we spend on entertainment is unjustified. Getting rid of movies, sports, and video games isn’t the idea here–at least, I don’t think it is. Also, maybe our current obsession with being constantly entertained has more to do with the kind of work we do?

    Guy,

    I’m an SEC guy, too, when UF is out of the running.

  28. Is it elitist to accuse others of being elitist?

  29. joe, your example, if you mean to use it as an allegory, does not parallel the “weighty” issues that the guy thinks we should worry about. If you have a hole in your roof, you can easily remedy that by calling a roofer or putting a tarp over it in the short term.

    Discussing and thinking about politics will not end the war in Iraq, or poverty, or any other political problem.

  30. Is it elitist to denounce the enormous popularity of Social Security?

    If only people had taken Econ 101! Demand curve! Demand curve!

  31. I’ll echo what John said with one more observation.

    If you think politicians are craven, pandering and opportunistic now when they have to play to n% of the populace, I don’t think you’d like to see one when they were playing to the whole 100%.

  32. I’d like to see the sports fans who have weighed in here respond to a similar complaint about coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s death crowding out coverage of serious news. Would you have the same disdain for a writer who made that point?

    Excellent point.

    According to many commenters here, social criticism is only a reflection of elitism or an inability to understand why everybody doesn’t agree with your tastes in entertainment. You could actually extend this idea to any form of debate – simply disagreeing with somebody implies that you think you’re better than them, doesn’t it?

  33. FFF,

    I disagree with you. I think that greater public awareness of and participation in the political process will yield better results.

    I have no actual evidence of this, I’ll be the first to admit, but that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

    Frankly, I find the idea that ordinary people’s involvement in politics is irrelevant, or even harmful, to be quite elitist.

  34. John says:

    The problem all of these “people don’t pay attention to the right stuff” articles, and their are tons of them, is that it is really just a cover for saying “why doesn’t everyone agree with me?”.

    Then he says:

    This is the same as the moronic “won’t don’t young people vote more” pieces that get printed periodiclly, almost inevietably by liberals.

    Sounds like John just doesn’t understand why liberals don’t agree with him as far as who should vote.

  35. Pro Libertate, groovy man!

    On this elitist crap, the ultimate I have experienced was a couple of Eastern Europeans in an Arlington, VA hotel bar. IIRC it went something like this (I wrote about it someplace right after it happened, forgot where, the details will be better there):

    EE: We have large stadiums in Europe (watching something like soccer, I think).

    Me: Yea? How big is that one that is on TV now?

    EE: 40,000! (or some little 5 digit number)

    Me: Oh, are they going to be playing in the bigger ones later?

    EE: That is the big one!

    Me: (trying as hard as possible to not sound like some elitist stadium bigot) Um, does not sound very big to me.

    EE: What do you mean!

    Me: Well, the stadium at my University in Tennessee is around 106,000 and the Bristol Motor Speedway, also in TN is around 160,000 (explains it is a NASCAR track) . . .

    EE: Oh, I don’t care about American football or NASCAR.

    Me: Well, okay but I thought we were talking about stadium capacity?

    EE: Yes, in Europe our stadiums are very large!

  36. I just read the rest of the article as an out-of-sample test of my model, and I am pleased to say that it fit pretty accurately.

    I should have been able to predict that he would be photographed with a silly hat and a smug grin, though.

  37. “Try to actually think about, rather than merely reacting to, my example. You know that keeping your house from falling apart is a higher-order concern than watching basketball.”

    joe:

    I wasn’t clear. The elitism is in your view that your priorities are the equivalent of a hole in someone else’s house but they just can’t see it for some reason. What are you really saying about someone who doesn’t notice an actual hole in their roof?

  38. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with arguing about priorities. There is something wrong with dismissing the priorities of others without engaging them, which is pretty much what Nick said here.

  39. “Sounds like John just doesn’t understand why liberals don’t agree with him as far as who should vote.”

    No Dan, you don’t understand what I am saying. My point was that terms like participating and voting are pretty meaningless and when people on either side whine about the lack of them they are just whining about not enough people agreeing with them since the last thing they would want is for the people to start participating and voting in ways they don’t agree with.

  40. outside of boxing and some of the televised mma stuff, i don’t really care for sports, but i also don’t find it very hard to ignore, either.

    i don’t know if i’d characterize his position as elitist, but “jerkass” might fit. looking at even my local rag of rags, the ny post, half the paper is still news (or “news” if you want to be picky). it’s pretty easy to ignore the other half if one so chooses.

  41. My point was that terms like participating and voting are pretty meaningless and when people on either side whine about the lack of them they are just whining about not enough people agreeing with them since the last thing they would want is for the people to start participating and voting in ways they don’t agree with.

    That one is one of my favorite “paper vs. plastic” debates (I believe that is what I am going to call all of these anti-choice debates from now on).

    The youth voting thing quickly, and predictably, spins downward with automatic registration (motor-voter), followed by complaints that the involuntarily registered voters are not voting, so they need to be persuaded to, through various means like the Australian non-voter tax and other utter nonsense.

  42. Go Bucks!

    Guy,

    Sounds like more of a cultural disconnect, though the “I don’t care about…” part was a bit elitist-y (like all the yokels in this country that say the same about soccer and its massive appeal and popularity without any apparent realization of irony).

    Can’t really compare a team with statewide – even regional or national – appeal like Tennessee, Ohio State, Nebraska, etc. to anything in Europe. For a bunch of reasons. But now I’m starting to sound like a sports nerd, so I’ll shut up.

  43. It doesn’t take an elitist to object to the idea that pure democracy isn’t necessarily the ideal. If we actually got everyone to vote on everything, what would this country be like? We’d suddenly become collective Solomons? I don’t think so. This is a tough issue, because on the one hand, I think individual Americans are smarter than they are given credit for and should be allowed to live their own lives; on the other hand, we seem to lose our minds when it comes to much of our collective thinking.

    Right now, the Democrats love the idea of getting kids, ex-criminals, illegal immigrants, and house pets more active in voting because they are perceived as votes for the Democrats. If that were not the case, I’m sure the song would change a note or two. I’ll grant that they are legitimately more of a populist and democracy party than the GOP, but that view has flip-flopped before.

    Bah! What we really need are purely enlightened robot overlords.

  44. No Dan, you don’t understand what I am saying. My point was that terms like participating and voting are pretty meaningless and when people on either side whine about the lack of them they are just whining about not enough people agreeing with them since the last thing they would want is for the people to start participating and voting in ways they don’t agree with.

    I disagree – it’s entirely reasonable to think that the more people participate in a democracy the better the results will be even if not everybody votes like you do.

  45. So, Dan, our goal should be to become like the Swiss?

  46. The importance of having a democratic component to a system of government is that it gives the system legitimacy. We are part of the government, and we play a role in (and bear some responsibility for) its decisions and its actions. It also helps ensure that there is some accountability for elected officials to the electorate. What it isn’t necessarily good at is making good decisions, thinking ahead, or giving a heck about minority interests (minority in any sense–race, opinion, etc.). Of course, our current system isn’t much better. For reasons that may have something to do with making the system more “democratic” a hundred years ago, but that’s a topic for another thread.

  47. Mr. Show did the best version of the Eshelman type I’ve ever seen.

    Droopy: Do you wanna donut?
    Luddite Guy: No! I don’t eat donuts or hamburgers or any other food that has the “approval of the masses.”
    D: Did you see Sanford and Son last night?
    LG: I don’t watch television. I don’t even own a televsion. Notice I didn’T say teevee. Teevee is a nickname, and television is no friend of mine! Hr, ha, hr.

    The “Last Donut” setup is freakin’ brilliant too. Check out Mary Lynn Rajskub as the Donut girl before she was on 24.

  48. I have a visceral sympathy with this law student (and with joe and Dan T.) on this one–but it’s not something I can make a reasonable argument for. I think contact sports are a waste of brain cells, a lowest common denominator appeal to testosterone, and a way to deprive women of their husbands on weekends (college games Saturday, pro games Sunday, even Monday night football…where does the madness end, I ask? Where?). However, I’d be upset if someone took away my operas and Shakespeare plays and books on the grounds that they prevent my engagement with politics. There’s no question that they do. I’m studying for grad school in literature, and learning other languages and reading books about narrative theory prevents me from reading “The Economist” from cover to cover every weekend, as I used to and as my husband still does.

    If you’re going to make the argument that sports are a less worthwhile pastime than Verdi operas or “Hamlet,” it would have to be on the grounds that sports actively decrease intelligence, or that these other pursuits increase it. While it’s probably true the people who park themselves in front of the tube all weekend are less generally intelligent than opera goers (this isn’t true in every case, of course), the direction of causation isn’t clear. Do the sports decrease their intelligence, or were they less intelligent to begin with? If you could prove that football actively shaved off IQ points, you could probably argue that it’s really in none of our interests to have a stupid electorate. But then again, as libertarians, there’s relatively little we’d be willing to do about it.

  49. Pro Libertate,

    Civic engagement on one front tend to increase political engagement across the board. Once you get someone voting, for example, he’s a lot more likely to start paying attention to the news, discussing issues of the day, and thinking about the Big Questions. – not to mention getting involved in community events, going to city council meetings, and otherwise being a more active citizen.

  50. joe,

    Fair enough. I don’t agree that there is necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship there, but I would agree that someone who starts to care about issues will start paying more attention to them. Voting alone won’t do that, in my opinion, but I’d prefer a more informed and critically thinking public.

    If we were all angels, we wouldn’t need to vote 🙂

  51. Pro Lib,

    My point is, once someone gets into the voting booth (or reading the Op Ed page, or something), he is much more likely to become that “more informed and critically thinking” citizen.

  52. joe – are you sure?

    if we’re sticking with the sports analogy – listen to your normal call in sports talk show. The fans really don’t know that much about the sports, but have a side.

    Couldn’t we argue, say, from a “meletary lawyrz” perspective, that once a voter picks a side, they’ll simply entrench that position, and not become a critically thinking citizen?

  53. Doesn’t the make swing voters the bisexuals of the political spectrum?

  54. If we actually got everyone to vote on everything, what would this country be like? We’d suddenly become collective Solomons? I don’t think so.

    You will never be an accepted player in the Open Source community if you keep saying those wild things 🙂

  55. Joe- The difference between a hole in one’s roof and politics or the state of the world is that one can do something about the hole.

    BTW- “Elitist” and “pseudo-intellectual” are two terms I’m sick and freaking tired of hearing. Both are insults that do nothing to engage the point at hand and are effective only because they mean whatever the accuser wants them to mean. There. Rant off.

  56. joe,

    I’d agree, except that I believe many voters use the Christmas-tree approach to voting, which they’ve been well-trained for by our public school system 🙂

    Guy,

    That analogy doesn’t work, because people care about the functionality of their software.

    Speaking of Solomon, I was irritated that no one liked my Hannity joke–that he is just like King Solomon except that he would’ve cut the baby in half, then asked the women which half they wanted. I think that’s funny, damn you all, damn you all to hell. You maniacs!

  57. Pro Libertate,

    I liked your joke.

    I just didn’t realize you were so neurotically needy that you needed to hear my praise. And now I feel manipulated and cheap. Thanks, buttmunch!

  58. That analogy doesn’t work, because people care about the functionality of their software.

    I was speaking about your evilness of not ebing an independant thinker and thinking/speaking like everybody else. Software working is a much lower issue over there.

  59. de stijl,

    Praise isn’t necessary. It’s more of a feedback thing, like when the audience doesn’t laugh. You know, “Note to self–no more biblical references.” That sort of thing.

  60. My first impulse after RTFA was to remember whether Dayton, which is traditionally a good basketball school, had a good year or not. I knew that the Flyers (19-12 and 8-8 in the Atlantic 10) didn’t get an NCAA bid, but a little checking told me that they even missed the NIT. So, maybe a little sour grapes was involved, especially since Xavier had a good run and the Evil State Monstrosity at Columbus may win it all. But the fellow is a law student, and who knows what his undergrad school was?

    He might be this guy, which would make him a Cincinnati Bearcat. I don’t know which would disturb the average UC alum more: the goings-on when Huggins’ Thug-ins were rockin’ the Shoe, or the `Cats transformation into the Big East’s doormat. {hee, hee!}

    If this is the same Michael E., the voters handed him his head. I’ve been there buddy. Just because people don’t agree with you politically is no reason to turn into Allen Bloom. Non-wonks often have perfectly respectable reasons for voting or not voting the way they do. I’m a wonk, got the PoliSci degree and everything. I’ll watch Meet The Press, Fox News Sunday and their local equivalents before switching over to sports-fan mode on my weekends. But I suffer under no illusion that my “political involvement” has any practical effect, at all. No candidate who substantially agrees with me can get elected in any political district that includes my residence. For county-wide or state-wide offices, or for President, I could conceivably vote for the “least worst” candidate. 90% of the time, if I checked on election eve to see who the local newspaper endorsed, it would be a perfect contraindicator for my voting choice. Other people have other keys. Ignoring the great majority of public debate, never mind participating in it, can be an exercise of “rational ignorance.” If I wasn’t entertained by policy debate I probably wouldn’t listen to it or read about it, either.

    Kevin

    (Would like to see Georgetown hand OSU a defeat. Go Private Schools, Go Big East – in that order!)

  61. Akron has a big-time claim that they were snubbed. No NCAA (not terribly surprising), but no NIT, either.

    Go Bucks.

  62. Frankly, I find the idea that ordinary people’s involvement in politics is irrelevant, or even harmful, to be quite elitist.

    Elitist or not, it is a fact. If you seriously believe that the average person would be able to influence national politics if only they’d spend less time watching sports and more time watching news, well, I’m loath to dispel your comforting illusions.

    It is also a fact that most people are barely, if at all, affected by national political issues like Iraq and immigration, so perhaps their lack of concern is rational?

  63. With a name like Timon, I would think that Athens, not Columbus, would be your polis.

    Kevin

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