Sports Is Idolatrous

Recently, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Detroit to watch two cats fighting over a piece of meat. Individual participants painted themselves to represent respective cats, alcohol was in abundance, fights broke out, and endless dollars were spent on being able to witness this incredible display of sociality and achievement. By the time the blue-eyed calico cat had won, all felt much better about themselves, the calico, and the general state of the universe.

Of course, that never happened. What a ridiculous story. What kind of person would be so wasteful and so unproductive? And what kind of delusional person thinks that the peace of humanity is resolved by a cat they chose to identify with? But something similar did happen. Millions of Americans devoted hours to watch strangers throw, kick, run, and tackle each other for money. There was paraphernalia, alcohol and junk food, displays of aggression, and financial expenditure. As a result, people felt closer, more connected to aforesaid strangers, and temporarily more satisfied overall.

I should admit that the acting strangers used teamwork and strategy, and that those strangers have healthy diets and exercise routines. So I guess for them this was like playing violent Scrabble on a treadmill for money and fame. And I mustn’t forget that the sport involves physics, like everything else in the world. Social activities are also important for psychological health, catharsis, and the interconnectedness of society. The superiors of those strangers, the strangers, and the businesspeople involved are certainly satisfied with receiving your generous money and attention. The task at hand was performed with expertise and grace outdoors, so recreation and practiced skill were accomplished by somebody, ostensibly. At the very least, various kinds of people can find common ground in this odd subject.

But with all those great, isolated virtues aside, the epicenter of this cultural consumerist venture is competition. The goal for most is to win (though the slightly more philosophical ones will tell you it’s all about playing well). Competition is said to be a necessary element of society. Success and motivation are assumed to follow from surpassing others (and usually defeating them). Success (defined by winning) thus becomes non-existent in solitude (unless you are competing against yourself, which could be a symptom of a personality disorder or psychosis). So the existential purpose of the game is to feel subjectively good about a subjective success that is totally circular and un-existential. This relativism is also theologically inconsistent; it frames human competition as separate from Divine direction of the universe (which includes reward and punishment as well as greater purpose). If you know HaShem to be the Absolute, you don’t see your efforts as deterministic and your choices as truly independent. Choice is a complicated idea, but “hishtadlus” isn’t a valid excuse for believing that you’re the master of your future. Your success is determined by HaShem in accordance with your understanding of that truth and your private human efforts. If HaShem is the Master of Definitions, success is defined only by Him, and is likely more all-encompassing than whatever happens on the court or in your head. Sociality is necessary, competition is an incentive, but your testosterone is not a criterion of objectivity. Performing better than others at a particular task does not determine success; HaShem does.

Even if the goal is not competition, but rather “fun” (i.e. the good feeling you get from playing), that per se is not a fundamental value. If fun is not inherently good (i.e. healthy/productive), it cannot be an ultimate purpose. Enjoyment might be therapeutic, but even that needs to be isolated and tracked to a larger purpose. If you were to argue that there need not be a purpose to this activity (as they say, “Just do it”), such a proposition would contradict the objectively absolute truth that the world has a Creator who creates with the intention and knowledge that the Creation (i.e. you) will perform a directed task. If man has a central role in fulfilling the ultimate goal of Creation, it would be unimaginably silly to make exceptions for the sake of his own endorphin-release. And yes, everything you do must have purpose; that’s what it is to be a Jew. It’s a siman in Shulchan Aruch.

Find real happiness through fulfillment — not subjective competition. Be healthy, have meaningful relationships, use physics, and be strategic. But enough with competitive and entertainment sports. The words that are so commonly used in sports propaganda (e.g. determination, confidence, champion, victory, conquer, defeat etc.) are more suitable for a military campaign than a game. The really nice-sounding ones (e.g. integrity, achievement, goals, dream, faith, etc.) are just too vague to be as overgeneralized as they are. I too had an enjoyable and memorable childhood, but a holistic kind of maturity is probably healthy.

You could stone me if you want, but it won’t make you less emotionally dependent on a self-serving, consumerist, physically-obsessed Greco-Roman invention with which you’ve been indoctrinated since childhood. Objectivity is sweeter.

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