Wednesday, February 11, 2009

For The Kids

Recently, a high school student in Ohio emailed, asking if I could help her with a paper she's writing about sports culture. She enjoyed "American Fan" and wanted me expand on some of the arguments made in the book. Always willing to assist the next generation, I agreed to a brief interview, which you may read below. Don't know how this will go over in her class. Maybe her teacher is one of those raving radicals David Horowitz is forever foaming about. We are, after all, living in a time of renewed HOPE.

Do you believe that sports serve as a platform to eliminate stereotypes and promote equality or do you think it just leads to further discrimination?

DP: I think that sports, by and large, serve to make rich people richer. The games themselves contain many meanings, though a lot of that is projected on to the athletes. Sometimes, as with Jackie Robinson and Ernie Davis, there's social impact. Doug Williams was the first African-American QB to win the Super Bowl. Many people found that inspiring. But for the most part, sports promote greed, conformity, tribalism, and social distraction.

What is your opinion on sports figures as role models?

DP: Many years ago, Charles Barkley made a commercial where he said that he wasn't a role model. Parents should be role models, not athletes. While the ad was selling Nike, a lot of people focused on Barkley's statement, denouncing his "irresponsibility." The "role model" issue has only gotten worse since then. Part of me is glad that more and more athletes are shown to be liars, perjurers, steroid users, animal abusers, even felons. That helps to shatter the role model myth. These guys are paid to win games, fill stadiums, sell gear. A good number of them have lived different lives than the average person, and if they're talented enough, quite privileged lives. To expect them to show your kid how to properly behave is ridiculous. But then, Americans love fantasy, and in certain areas, they insist that the fantasy be real. Want a role model? How about someone who works with starving or diseased people.

Do sports have a positive or negative impact on the American economy?

DP: Depends on whose economy you're talking about. For the average fan, sports can have a negative impact, what with ticket prices, team merchandise, paying additional taxes so that the local team can build a new stadium. For the owners and corporate sponsors, sports is often quite lucrative. As for the national economy overall, I don't know how much impact sports actually make. There's a lot more going on economically at the moment than just sports. I think that foreign wars, to name one item, has more of an impact on the American economy.

Do you believe sports serve as a microcosm of society?

DP: In a way, yes. Certainly at a basic competitive level. There's an overemphasis on "winning at all costs," but that's an American feature. Hard to escape. For me, sports at best celebrate physical talent and dexterity. There's a beauty to watching LeBron James drive to the hole, or Santonio Holmes' winning catch in the Super Bowl. To see fellow humans have that kind of physical control and grace is inspiring. That's what moved me when I played sports as a kid. I think it inspires kids today. The problem is the surrounding corporate noise that drowns every sporting event. It warps an athlete's thinking, as well as the fans'.

Please comment on the following quote by John Gerdy:

“Like a drug addiction, being a sports fan offers little of long-term substance or meaning. It allows us to escape our problems and ignore the issues we face, and it undermines our attempts to solve them. We invest our effort and emotion in sports stars and teams rather than improving our own lives.”

DP: I think that's absolutely correct, and what I tried to uncover and parody in "American Fan."

Do professional sports have a positive or negative impact on American society?

DP: Again, depends on the person whom it affects. I think that overall, under current conditions, it's pretty negative, and getting worse. I say that as a lifetime sports fan. I still watch the games, at times really get into them. I know intellectually that it really doesn't matter, but there's something so immediate and electric about sports that it's hard for me to unplug. Then again, I've been watching and playing sports since the late-1960s. I'm pretty much corrupted.