The sports industry now has a negative image, on balance, among Americans as a whole, with 30% viewing it positively and 40% negatively, for a -10 net-positive score. This contrasts with the +20 net positive image it enjoyed in 2019, when 45% viewed it positively and 25% negatively.
Sports was the last common ground in the country and dually served as a measure of it between citizens. No matter how bad things were in Washington D.C., come game day you threw on the colors, the jersey, you cheered from the stands (or from your living room) and the only thing that mattered about the people cheering next to you was if they were team-kin or not. Back in the day, in my hometown of St. Louis, my resolute belief was that I’d rather sit next to a Democrat than a Cubs fan at Busch Stadium. It was a rivalry that was personal, nearly religious; the first home game of ever spring was an eagerly-anticipated city-wide holiday. The station where I began my radio program was empty, roads were closed, everyone was out in the streets or at the stadium, all dressed in red.
When I was younger my friends and I would spill out into the restaurants and bars after the games and make friends with fellow fans. Some of the friends we made were hardcore leftists but — on game day? We were all hardcore Cards fans. Heck, we’d all draw swords together and charge as one if that was the best way to cheer on our team. True story: Ten years ago I recognized one fellow fan who joined my group in a rousing chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” the spring before from on the street during a protest. He was a Democrat, I was a conservative. On game night he wore a red jersey and that’s all that mattered.
I can’t remember when that changed.
It happened so gradually and then time jolted forward at a breakneck speed to bring us to where we are now: utterly divided. It began before Colin Kapernick took a knee. I never spent much time on how Kapernick expressed his sentiment but I wholly disagreed with his reason for doing so. I wrote about that here. (The NFL will never be allowed to get it right, either.) People, broadcasters, sportswriters, the left generally, kept injecting politics into sports. It was like the “Scouring of the Shire,” our place of refuge, untouched by the madness of Washington, overrun with policy disputes. I firmly believe the absence of sports over the lockdown (and the politicization which began prior) was a contributor to the extreme binary tribalism we see now. Without distractions we were able to spend more undiluted time focusing on all of our differences. As Juvenal wrote in The Satires:
Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions—everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.
The people now didn’t even have bread and circuses to distract from the prohibition on their church services, their schools, their ability to even open their shops and generate a wage, their liberties. The Romans knew to keep sports entertainment going if anything as a way to distract the masses (alternately, “basket of deplorables”) from struggle and strife. (For crying out loud — the Romans occassionally filled the Coliseum with water and staged epic, gladiator-style naval battles). Karl Marx was wrong when he said that “religion is the opium of the people.” Sports is the “opium of the people,” not religion.
Now that this shire has been scoured, where is our national refuge?