"You will never give your approval to those foolish racing and throwing feats, and yet more foolish leapings. You will never find pleasure in injurious or useless exhibitions of strength. Certainly you will not regard with approval the strivings after an artificial body that aim at surpassing the Creator's work." -Tertullain (c. 197)
"In the chariot games, who does not shudder at the madness of the people brawling among themselves?" -Mark Minucius Felix (c. 200)
"Yet they call these "sports" in which human blood is shed!" -Lactantius (c. 304-313)
*Quotes from A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David Bercot, ed. More thoughtful insight from our Church Fathers can be found at this blog post from the Vatopaidi Greek Orthodox Monastery.
As I write, I'm watching Sportscenter on ESPN as they discuss the upcoming NFL draft. Ironically right after debating the characters and checkered pasts of prospective draftees and whether that will affect their draft positions and potential career they continue the story of the "bounties" that the New Orleans Saints paid out to their players based on how vicious the hit and/or the star status of their victim. The NFL came down strong on the Saints, suspending just about everyone in the front office and coaching staff and the question now is not if, but how hard, the NFL will penalize the players involved. Meanwhile we cheer on convicted felons (Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, et al) and alleged felons (Cam Newton) so long as they help our fantasy football team.
Two days ago in the NHL playoffs, Phoenix Coyote winger Raffi Torres laid out the Chicago Blackhawks Marian Hossa, who had to be taken off the ice in a stretcher. Torres is suspended indefinitely (his third suspension of the year). Media outlets like USA Today question if the on-ice violence has skated out of control. (Since the start of the playoffs, the NHL has suspended 8 players and fined two more, not including the pending judgment on Torres.) The Governor General of Canada (Canadian proxy to Queen Elizabeth II, yes I had to look that up), David Johnston, calls the violence this season anti-Canadian and undermines Canadian culture. Serious words considering that hockey flows through Canadian blood.
As aghast as we make ourselves out to be over these trends, our eyes are glued to ESPN's "Top Plays" which highlight the hardest cross-check in hockey or tackle in football. We were just as complicit in baseball's steroid scandal, as we drooled over highlights of "back-to-back jacks!" "walk-offs" and "bombs" made more frequent by the use of performing enhancing substances. And our money lines the pockets of basketball millionaires who complain about playing for certain coaches (Dwight Howard, who has his own post coming), having to feed their family (Latrell Sprewell and many others), or not getting paid to play in the Olympics (Dwyane Wade) as we wear their jerseys, buy their shoes, and pay tickets to watch.
At what point are we going to pay to watch "athletes" try to kill each other in the arena as was the case in ancient Rome? Oh wait, the popularity of boxing, "the gentleman's sport" or the "sport of kings", is being usurped by Mixed Martial Arts. (interestingly it is argued that the popularity of professional boxing began to wane when in nationally telivised bouts a year apart two fighters died. Benny Paret went into a coma after sustaining 29 straight hits, with 18 blows coming in six seconds, from Emile Griffith before the referee called the fight in 1962. A year later when Davey Moore lost to Sugar Ramos by knockout, he hit his neck on the bottom rope as he fell damaging his brain stem.)
And it's not even isolated to sports. Cross "The Running Man" with "Battle Royale" and you get this year's biggest box-office hit, "The Hunger Games".
So where's the line? How violent do sports need to become to turn us away? How much more can we tolerate overbearing parents fighting at Little League games before we're disgusted to the point of not participating? How much more corruption do we need to see in amateur athletics (I'm looking at you college football) before we say enough is enough and turn of the major networks who pay out billions to broadcast athletes that don't get paid.
I can't cast stones as I'm as guilty as anyone. But the recent headlines have caused me to pause and reflect on what I value and why I'm such a sports addict. Truth be told, I haven't had cable or satellite in nearly ten years. I always say if I were to subscribe, it would be for sports. As I've noticed my interest wane just by not watching as frequently, I wonder if it wasn't for the internet if I'd even care at all. But I still want my fix. Last year I swore off college football over the absurdity of conference realignment. But I couldn't stay away. I've lost interest in the NFL as I no longer spend all day Sunday watching games. Yet I participated in a fantasy football league last year. When is enough going to be enough? I'm not asking you, I am asking myself. Am I entertained?