Friday, February 10, 2012

Super Bowl Ambivalence

"An athlete can find as much virtue, luminosity, and self-transcendence through sports as a monk can find through his or her spiritual practice." ~ Corey deVos

I watched the Super Bowl last Sunday.

Yes, even though I'm not a football fan, especially when the San Francisco 49'ers aren't playing, I watched the whole game with my wife. I think I did it primarily because I wanted my foreign born wife and myself to share a brief, bonding immersion in the glory and garishness of American culture on one of its most "sacred" days.

She and I immersed ourselves alright, and I almost sheepishly admit that I kind of enjoyed it. I say "almost sheepishly," because I have my share of misgivings concerning the rampant greed and crass commercialism in American sports in general and concerning the additional bone-crunching brutality of American football and disturbing bloodlust of its fans in particular.

But there's also a part of my male psyche that enjoys watching and vicariously experiencing the brute physicality, intense competitiveness, complex and shifting strategies, and kinesthetic artistry of the sport, and that likes to participate, albeit it in the cozy comfort of my living room, in a grand communal experience of all that for a few hours.

I recently read a brilliant article that masterfully exposes the roots of my ambivalence about sports. English professor and one time mediocre high school football player Mark Edmundson writes that athletics CAN "do great good: build the body, create a stronger, more resilient will, impart confidence, stimulate bravery, foment daring. But at the same time, sports often brutalize the player--they make him more aggressive, more violent. They make him intolerant of gentleness; they help turn him into a member of the pack, which defines itself by maltreating others--the weak, the tender, the differently made."

And integral writer Corey deVos writes that "There is nothing Spirit doesn't touch--from our highest ideals of love, respect, and sportsmanship to the drunken bloodlust of hearing millions of people cheering you to victory--everything finds its home in the transcendent mind of God, nestled in the immanent heart of the Sacred, where the line between winning and losing becomes the very same line that separates self and other, part and whole, here and eternity."

I admit that I would like to see sports assume a less important place in American culture than it does. I'd like to see people spending less time cheering for their favorite athletic team while stuffing their faces with junk food in front of their TV sets or in the stadium stands, and more time in their own physical activities, visiting with family and friends, or educating themselves in subjects in which they're so appallingly ignorant that it's no wonder they're such woefully underinformed voters in our democratic elections.

Yet, I have to concede that sports are not the thoroughgoing evil that some simplistically make them out to be and that, when enjoyed in moderation, they can range from harmless to uplifting.

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