Why sports matter

Whenever a Boston team does well, my Facebook feed blows up. (I have good friends.) People celebrate, say how happy they are, and cheer on whatever team happens to be playing. When the Bruins recently won the Stanley Cup my feed was full of happy friends. And I certainly contributed to the celebration. It’s something special to see a favorite team win a championship.

But there’s always one or two people who have to be Debbie Downers. One update I saw was pretty typical: ‘It’s just a game, people’ (paraphrased). Or take PZ’s post about the Vancouver riots:

Some team in Canada won the Stanley Cup, which prompted happy revelers to…riot and destroy public property?

He eventually corrected his post to reflect the fact that Vancouver lost (How you like them apples, Luongo?), but such inaccuracy reflects the level of concern PZ has for sports. That particular post doesn’t demonstrate his indifference adequately, but anyone who follows Pharyngula knows PZ is not a sports guy.

And that’s fine. I happen to really enjoy sports – I can watch just about anything that isn’t soccer – but I don’t expect everyone to love them. To each his own, right? But what I don’t like is the dismissal of sports as unimportant.

Let’s go back to that status update. “It’s just a game” is the common refrain of those who believe they have the greatest of perspectives on sports. ‘Why, it’s just men running around trying to score goals or runs or whathaveyou. Who could care about such a thing?’ These people are missing the big picture.

Spending an entire season following a team is an emotional investment. It takes energy and devotion and it can even be draining. It doesn’t matter that it’s other people who are performing the amazing feats. It isn’t important that anyone can watch a grueling hockey game while devouring a pizza. And who cares that people who have never skated or never played an organized game on the diamond or done any of that stuff can follow the action? None of that changes the fact that it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the emotionalism of sports.

And there’s far more than that to it all.

My first professional sports experience was a game at Fenway with my dad in 1999. I didn’t watch sports at that point – which is ironic considering my dad’s occupation as a sports journalist – so I couldn’t appreciate the fact I was seeing Pedro Martinez pitch in one of his Cy Young years – a year when he won the pitching Triple Crown and turned in one of the greatest pitching performances ever. No, I hardly had a grasp on all that, but there was so much more to appreciate. I appreciated the Fenway franks. I appreciated the cheers of the crowd. I appreciate that I saw the Green Monster when it still had its netting (though the seats look great). I appreciate that I sat in a park, which now holds the record for most consecutive sell outs, during a time when it was possible to just show up and buy a ticket on the day of the game with ease. But one of the things I appreciate the most is that my first professional sports experience was with my dad.

It took me some time to realize it, but the point of going to that game was for the sake of the whole experience – father and son. I had asked my dad if I could bring a friend, fearing how much I would enjoy watching a game I didn’t understand. He told me he could only get two tickets, so the answer had to be no. I decided to still go, but it later dawned on me that he had also invited my brother. There had to be a third ticket available. My dad wasn’t just inviting me to a game for the sake of hopefully seeing a Red Sox win. There was a much more important reason he wanted me to go to that game – a reason that would only insult the reader for me to explain any further. (The Red Sox did win, by the way, 7-2 against Anaheim.)

To dismiss any sport as “just a game” is to dismiss all that comes with being a fan. Whether it’s the personal emotional investment – it’s difficult to understand the relief felt by so many Red Sox fans in 2004 – or a family affair, sports are important. They intertwine with the lives of many of us in ways that rise above a casual game of Monopoly or cards. They have an impact on us in ways that are value-heavy and memory-impressing. They have an effect on our lives that give meaningful experiences we often would not – or could not – otherwise have.

Sports matter for their ability to rise above being mere games.

Don’t trust the police

I tell people time and time again, don’t talk to the cops. If an officer has pulled you over, or has terry stopped you, or otherwise has you detained, you two are not friends. That cop is not there to help you. Giving him more information than what is legally required of you – usually just your name and address – will only help his record look a little better when his annual review comes around.

But people don’t want to believe me. When online I can just point them to my post advising them not to talk to the cops, but I don’t have that luxury in person. It’s frustrating. Everyone believes they can talk their way out of any situation. “B-but if I just get a chance to tell my side of the story, I’ll be fine!” No, you won’t. Remember when ex-politician and current beautiful hair model Rod Blagojevich had close to two dozen charges against him? He was showboating and proclaiming about his day in court. Boy was he going to show the government what was what! And then the government put on a terrible case, failing to prove Blagojevich guilty of almost everything. Needless to say, the man didn’t take the stand – it doesn’t pay to say more than what must be said. But he was found guilty of one count: lying to the FBI. He had made the mistake of talking to agents before his lawyers could get him to shut the hell up.

Which brings me to an excellent article from the law blog Popehat:

Is there ever a situation where, by being friendly and cooperative and answering questions, you can deflect government suspicion or satisfy their concerns without charges? Yes. Very rarely, there is. And when the government comes knocking, they count on you grasping at the hope that this is one of those times. Don’t be a fool. If there’s a chance that cooperation will satisfy the authorities today, there will still be a chance in a day or a week or a month after you’ve consulted a lawyer who understands the situation. When you answer law enforcements’ questions — especially when you do it in a stressful situation like a search — you take grave risks of substantially worsening your situation.

Read the entire post and it’s obvious the given scenario is one most of us will never experience. But that isn’t the point. The most law-abiding among us is plenty likely to encounter a cop that wants to ask us questions. And most of us would probably answer everything plenty blindly. But don’t. That cop is not your friend, he doesn’t want to help you, and it will not benefit you to talk to him.

But maybe you’re worried about looking guilty. If you don’t talk, that will only raise suspicions, right? Maybe. But how many prosecutors have given the closing statement, “And so the defendant was silent when questioned. I think you know what that means. I rest my case.”?

Keep your mouth shut.

At least LePage isn’t pretending he doesn’t mean the Christian god

Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, has declared August 6 to be a day of prayer and fasting:

WHEREAS, in times of trouble, even those who have been granted power by the people must turn to God in humility for wisdom, mercy and direction. In the spirit of the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, Verses 15-16, I urge a solemn gathering of prayer and fasting. As those verses admonish: “15Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly … 16 Gather

the people, consecrate the assembly… “As Jesus prayed publicly for the benefit of others in

John II :41-42, so should we express our faith in this way.

NOW, THEREFORE, I PAUL R. LEPAGE, Governor of the State of Maine, do hereby proclaim

August 6th as

A Day of Prayer and Fasting for Our Nation

This is highly exclusionary and a misuse of public office. LePage cannot constitutionally use the government of Maine to endorse a day of prayer. (The fasting will be good for him and other Mainers of his girth, though.) The only positive thing that can be taken from this is that at least LePage is being honest and not pretending like he’s declaring a day for all religions. It’s pretty obvious he just means his.