In an era where sports figures are compensated like railroad tycoons of the 1800’s, it is difficult to remember a time when even professional athletes had to get “other jobs” in the offseason to pay the bills. It is only in the past 50 years that salaries have risen to levels so disproportionate to the “ordinary man.” This change, of course, also coincides with television. Television brought the athletes into the living room, and brought advertising dollars from the living room into the athletes’ respective pockets. With that, sports has turned into a religion, with athletes serving as gods. There are sp many examples of this, that this topic may turn into a series on this blog. If so, then consider this part 1.
So let’s start at the beginning. Now, you might think that athletes are not revered as gods. But this is only incorrect in that it leaves out the coaches and other personalities. If you think Joe Paterno was not treated like a god among Penn State fans, then why did two things happen: (a) a statue–i.e. a graven image–of Joe Paterno was erected; and (b) the removal of the statue following the well-known scandal was handled so poorly by the Penn State fan base. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Paterno_statue. Do you think it was any different when a local tribe 3,500 years ago had its golden calf, or whatever, damaged by another tribe? We erect statues to our athletes just as ancient civilizations created graven images of their gods. And when allegations arose, Penn State fans blindly defended Paterno with a zeal that can only be described as “faith.”
Paterno, of course, was legendary at Penn State. He was there a long time, won a lot of games, and donated a ton of money to the school. Who knows what kind of person he was? Maybe he was great, maybe he was subpar. Maybe he was a good man, maybe he was not. But even for players and coaches far below Paterno’s local influence, how many Internet arguments take place every day regarding their merits. How many arguments take place over mundane sorts of things as “disrespecting my team.” Entire blogs with hundreds of comments because a team was not ranked in the top 10. This author has seen arguments on a Syracuse blog because–although Syracuse was ranked #1–some voters did not have vote Syracuse #1. Good grief. This passion is nearly religious.
Even worse, sports fans have gradually given more and more credit and fame to those athletes that are LEAST godly. Treating players like gods, despite them not acting godly. Quite a paradox.
When a player says he “is the best,” that is applauded despite being the opposite of humility and modesty. When a player leaves a good situation team-wise to go to a lesser-team for more money, that is applauded despite the obvious greed and covetousness. When a player has children out of wedlock across the country, that is ignored in the hope that merely sending some amount of money in that direction will be a substitute for having a real father and family. And that is all without delving into the adultery, spousal abuse, and other violent crimes that are perpetrated by athletes and ignored by fans of the player (even if not by fans of opposing teams).
Sure, some lesser players will get thrown to the wolves. A struggling player will fail a steroid test and be suspended for a year. A fading star that abuses his wife publicly will lose his job. The NCAA will sanction some schools, but allow more traditional and elite schools to get away with much more. These are no different than sacrifices. Does anyone really have confidence in the punishment decisions handed out by the NCAA or the professional leagues? Of course not. And that is without even getting into international sports and the Olympics.
Yes, sorry, sports is a religion these days. It can be a distraction, but it often gets far too close to religion. We see this elsewhere in society too–people arguing over politics (as if any of the candidates are ever truly worthy), reality TV, music, and whatever else the sheep are led to distraction by. But sports seems to be the worst at that. Otherwise good and reasonable people are more than willing to become drunk, disorderly, obnoxious, arrogant, and argumentative over sports. All for a false religion.
What do you think? Has sports become the equivalent of a religion in our society?