‘Around the clock? Sports all the time?” Will Ferrell’s ‘Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy said amidst laughter. ‘That’s never going to work….”
Well we all know how successful ESPN has been; yet to some people, the idea of watching an hour of exclusively sports news seems ludicrous. Forget about watching SportsCenter back-to-back (to-back-to-back). On the contrary, even a minute of CNN might seem so humdrum to some sports fans that they need to watch some football and chug a beer just to regain their bearings.
Clearly, these are the polar ends of the spectrum, with most Americans falling in the middle but how wide is the spectrum? Following a team gives fans an escape from reality and in turn can become a very important part of peoples’ lives. On the other hand, being able to make informed political decisions is an important responsibility for all Americans.
No matter where on the spectrum you lie, the next two weeks are guaranteed to provide a paramount level of significance in both sports and politics.
For a short window every October, four major professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL) overlap, providing sports fans with the ultimate dilemma: what to watch. Throw in one of the most significant presidential elections in our nation’s history, and most people will concede that following it all closely is next to impossible. Add the current financial crisis into the mix well, lets just say Americans will have a lot on their plates over the next couple weeks.
Although sports provide a break from political reality, many of the same issues come to light in both sports and politics. Nowhere is this more perceptible than in this year’s World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies one of MLB’s original teams, clad in red uniforms and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball’s newest franchise in their blue jerseys. The two teams even hail from key battleground states.
One of the most pressing issues in both MLB and the upcoming election is that of race.
‘Right now, I don’t think baseball is deemed as cool as basketball and football to young black athletes,” Rays wunderkind pitcher David Price said recently.
The number of African American baseball players has dropped tremendously recently, but this series features a core of star players B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Price for the Rays, and the Phillies’ Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins all of whom are black.
Other than the stated similarities most of which seem trivial and coincidental the connection between sports and politics goes deeper. It is in the dissimilarity of sports and politics that we find the crux of the relationship. Both sports and politics are integral parts of American life, representing similar values in a completely different manner.
Right now, the future of America appears uncertain. We are facing a presidential election that will not only determine the bottom line for the current economic meltdown but also how America re-establishes itself in world affairs. Yet with America sitting at this tumultuous crossroads, the world of sports proceeds, amazingly oblivious to the political turmoil all around us.
It is difficult to appreciate it while we are in the moment, but the history of America is unfolding in front of our eyes. As we anxiously await the results of this landmark election, we find relief from many anxieties by turning to the sports world.
The improbable World Series matchup between the Phillies and the Rays is underway. The NFL is in the middle of one of its most surprising seasons in recent memory. The Detroit Red Wings and Boston Celtics are primed to begin their title defenses in the NHL and NBA. The first BCS ranking, which will soon endure its annual scrutiny, was just released. Even NASCAR (which I personally have trouble pretending to be interested in) is heading for the climax of the Chase for the Cup.
It is not the relationship to one another that makes politics and sports such a central component of American life, but rather the relationship that politics and sports independently have with Americans. During the next couple of weeks, while we enjoy what we are watching, we should also make sure we appreciate the privilege of being a part of it.
Starr’s column appears weekly. Starr is a member of the class of 2009.