Is most of the world crazy, or is it just me? Over the years I enjoyed playing a variety of sports—none of them very well I might add—including baseball, basketball, softball, volleyball, and tennis. In years past I attended college football games, basketball games, and baseball games, and acted like I actually enjoyed them. Sometimes I did, but in general I’m bored as a spectator.

Just yesterday I went to watch parts of two softball games. Mainly I went to visit friends who are playing in the league that I helped start nearly a decade ago. Playing used to be a lot of fun, but it got to where it wasn’t and I quit.

Years ago I got some friends riled up by advocating that intercollegiate sports be abolished. I had several reasons for this argument then, and to some degree I still believe in those arguments. Some of them were/are:

  • Students should be physically active instead of sitting on their butts for hours watching other students play sports. Being a student requires enough sitting as it is and it hardly helps the body or mind to use a preponderance of one’s time sitting. Students who are not into sports may be physically active in countless other ways, also among friends. A renewed emphasis on and investment in intramural sports would be refreshing.
  • Emphasis on intercollegiate sports on college campuses diverts from their main goal of educating. Alumni who are loyal to their institutions often seem to think that watching football, basketball, hockey, tennis, or some other sport is more important in their lives than what they gained from collegiate studies. Is what happens on a field more important than what happens in a chemistry lab, or a language class, or a philosophy lecture? Are well-funded athletics departments more important to your children than well-funded mathematics, arts, humanities, or biology departments?
  • College fundraising gets turned on its head by intercollegiate sports. It’s as if colleges tell alumni by their publicity that sports are the reason to donate money. Administrators often argue that top-ranking sports teams drive alumni contributions, and if they’re right their alumni have misplaced priorities. Colleges were mainly established for academics, not maniacal Rah! Rah! Rah! in stadiums and arenas.
  • Intercollegiate sports focus attention on a relatively small portion of the student population, urging students indirectly to be followers and not leaders. Academic achievements of students are far more important, but you’d never guess that from the preponderant messages of campus alumni offices. “Join us for homecoming!” “Support the Huskers in the Rose Bowl!” “Watch the Volunteers roll over the Crimson Tide!” “Don’t miss the Bruins as they crush the Ducks!” “Come to our alumni meeting in Denver and hear our new athletic director lay out her/his goals for your favorite team in the world!”

This kind of stuff makes me want to take a nap instead. Same with professional sports. We should be able to “get over” college, or some cherished team from childhood, early in our adulthoods as maturity sets in and instead focus our energies on what really matters. Varsity athletics isn’t it for the vast majority of students, or for the rest of us.

NCAA sports logos. Are they for grownups, or do they drive us crazy? (Image credit)

NCAA sports logos. Are they for grownups, or do they drive us crazy? (Image credit)

I have a different attitude about sports in the first twelve years of a child’s education. There sports can and should be viewed as a key part of helping youth become well-rounded adults. Parents and other family members are right to cheer their children on, to revel in their victories, and to shrug off losses as good learning experiences. Title IX sports have been a marvelous improvement in the education of girls and young women, who deserve precisely the same opportunities as boys and young men.

Sports have been extremely important in my life. Sports built my confidence and taught me about losing gracefully. What I learned playing sports made me a better person. But I don’t have to act like a dufass in adulthood when maturity kicks in.

College and professional sports teams, and “the sporting life” in general, are part of the fiber of our culture and cultures around the world. Sports help drive our economy.

What strengthens our culture and our economy even more is a well-educated, thoughtful population. We should value institutions for the good they do and support them for that, not according to where their sports teams rank among peer institutions.

As an observer, it looks to me like sports drive many of us crazy, creating a group psychology that diverts us from activity into inactivity, and from rational to irrational behavior. Now intercollegiate and professional sports on TV can quickly lead me into inactivity. Within minutes, I slip into a restful nap.

Watching sports hour after hour is not at all like participating. Playing sports yourself, or taking a vigorous hike, or swimming laps is far superior to watching others play. The difference is like night and day. 

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