Monday, April 22, 2013

The limits of sports, revisited

Some time back I dashed off a little piece about how sports, for as much as I enjoy them (and yes, baseball in particular), aren't really that great a vehicle for some of the things we ask them to do in modern society.  Recent events have provided motivation to revisit the idea.
At the time of that post, the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State was unfolding in all its grisly horror.  Since then, Penn State has actually played a football season without Joe Paterno coaching, and it wasn't quite as awful as predicted.  I make no claim to know what that means.  In the meantime, the infighting and recriminations about the scandal, the NCAA's handling of that scandal, and university's comportment through it all continues, though much farther from the glare of public attention.
The Miami Marlins, formerly the Florida Marlins, committed the faux pas of engaging in a "fire sale" of all their viable major league talent (except for one guy) within too short a time of fleecing the citizens of Miami-Dade for gobs of money to build a new stadium.  There will be legal recriminations yet, I suspect, but MLB will do nothing, because the Marlins owner is one of their chosen own, and MLB is pretty poor at policing their own.
College athletics gives us its usual assortment of mixed signals.  College football is basically an industry at this point, with the "college" part less and less relevant as (in my humble opinion; this is pure speculation, I admit freely) the top programs get better and better at covering their tracks in terms of keeping their best athletes eligible by hook or by crook.  College basketball offered up the gruesome spectacle of a horrific injury suffered by a Louisville Cardinals player during the tournament, and subsequent questions about who exactly was responsible for the medical treatment that followed (Kevin Ware, I can relate to that part).  And good God, no, I'm not linking to any video of that.  I have not seen it and I don't expect you to do so for my sake.
Of course, it was a week ago that the questions of the limits of sports began to forward themselves again.  The Boston Marathon, as much civic festival as prestigious race, was disrupted by a criminal and terrorist act, with three deaths and numerous injuries.  The immediate aftermath became the vehicle by which we saw an awful lot of human good; first responders and volunteers rushing toward the explosions, marathoners finishing the race only to keep running to a hospital to give blood (as if they weren't already physically depleted themselves).  The race itself was called off, and to my knowledge I never saw any mention of who finished first.
One was hard-pressed not to recall the aftermath of recent tragedies (only a couple of weeks before baseball had opened its seasons with commemorations of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School) and the ways in which sports teams tried to fit into the community's response to them.  The Boston Red Sox, as is traditional on Patriots' Day/marathon day, had already played that morning and were headed on a road trip when the explosions happened.  Their return home Friday night was postponed (the first time the words "local manhunt" had ever appeared in a sports score summary, I'm guessing).  The next day, honorably but predictably, turned into an honoring of first responders and others involved in the response to the bombings and the manhunt that finally got its man boy in the overnight hours recently past.  A young outfielder hit a dramatic home run and the home team won, and everybody went home happy for a Sox win and for being able to move about most of Boston freely.
Then the next day the Sox got swept in a doubleheader by the Kansas City Royals.  Did that hurt the healing process?  I mean, the freaking Royals, people.
I do not want to belittle such things in the wake of tragic/horrific events; I do wish to ask us as a society not to overstate them.  "Respite" is a perfectly appropriate word and an honorable thing to offer; "healing" is not appropriate and not within the capacity of a sporting event to do.  Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes's use of a bat honoring those killed in the bombing or manhunt was a spectacularly decent thing to do; it did not, however, bring healing or "closure" or any circumvention of the grieving process that the families of those victims will still face.  A moment's respite?  Sure, and this is a good and decent thing to do.  It is not, however, a solution or an end to anything, and to act as though it is only does harm to the victims such a deed is meant to honor.
Sports is hardly alone; no one event, no one venue or pursuit or proclamation will ever be sufficient for "healing" or "closure."  No one will be "healed" or "achieve" closure by the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnev was killed in the manhunt, or by his kid brother's trial or sentencing.  That's not how the human psyche works, and those who claim to get "closure" from that kind of thing are probably left at several arm's distances and not touched with Dr. Seuss's thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.  Grieving takes time.  Those who will not give it that time are frankly damaging themselves and those around them.  To expect that anybody will get closure in the face of terror and loss is damnable.  Don't do it.  Just don't.
End of rant.

No comments:

Post a Comment