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Jewish World Review Dec. 24, 2001 / 9 Teves, 5762

Marc Berley

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Sports fanatics -- IT wasn't so long ago that the NFL postponed the opening of its season because September 11 made sports seem irrelevant. Now disgraceful news comes from the sports world almost daily. Monday night, New Orleans Saints fans threw beer bottles onto the field at the Super Dome. The cause? A "bad call" by the officials. The same thing had happened in Cleveland the day before.

One hopes Al-Jazeera doesn't air footage of the violent fans. It's shameful that Americans could think a "bad call" in a football game is cause for putting innocent people in harm's way.

An NFL game is not a life or death matter, and it is very disturbing to see fans act as if it is. Of course, fan is short for fanatic. And therein lies the problem: sports can become the opiate of the masses.

Too many Americans blur the line between sports and life - a glaring problem in a time of war. When Jeff Van Gundy resigned from his position as Coach of the New York Knicks ten days ago, it seemed clear that the loss of his college roommate in the September 11 attack and the desire to see more of his six-year-old daughter made him think about life in a way that kept him from treating basketball as the only reality. But that didn't keep fanatical fans and sportswriters from condemning Van Gundy in vicious tones best reserved for describing terrorists.

Van Gundy was only observing that the sports world can suck one into an existence that disregards the larger purposes of life. A week later, Notre Dame football coach George O'Leary had to resign after only days on the job when it was revealed that he had lied about his life - everything from education to experience. College sports is often built on lies, including student athletes who never study and never make the pros, duped pawns whom life hits hardest when no one's looking.

When athletic competition is understood as part of life, not life itself, it offers valuable lessons. Sports are supposed to instill courage and perseverance, and to teach us to handle the facts of life: the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat.

It's not just winning; it's how you win - and how you lose. Every athletic competition has its own narrative, frequently a moral one in which players step up to the plate seeking redemption. Fans can learn from the poise and resilience of the great players. That's the point of spectator sports, and their value.

It's time for unruly sports fanatics to sober up, look in the mirror, and get a life.

JWR contributor Marc Berley, president of the Foundation for Academic Standards & Tradition, is author of After the Heavenly Tune and co-editor of The Diversity Hoax. Comment by clicking here.


12/17/01: Scoring race: We need fairness and standards
12/04/01: George was the sound
11/27/01: The war against ignorance
11/08/01: Our courage is real
10/19/01: Teach American history again
10/08/01: Clinton still spinning a legacy
10/01/01: A new kind of peace movement
09/25/01: Why Can't Israel Be "With Us"?
09/20/01: Because We're America

© 2001, Marc Berley