Thursday, March 11, 2010


Ross posts on his 'other' website:

"...[T]here's something to be said about the sports-mania that afflicts our society. It is certainly obvious that international sports have very little, if anything, to do with promoting goodwill among nations. Bread and circuses, I say. Bread and circuses"

One wonders whether this is the sort of bitterness bred from never having won a round croquet--but I digress.

What exactly are you teaming up with Christopher Hitchens to oppose? On the one hand it sounds suspiciously like what Merlin called in The Once and Future King, "games mania," but on the other, you seem to paint the Olympics with the same broad brush. What, pray tell, gives?

For my part, the essence of most sports consists in their participants' attempts to exert physical dominion over another in competition. Thus, a virtue of sport is when that superiority is expressed for the sake of excellence, and not so much for the sake of dominance. And that's what I enjoy about the Olympics. Very few of its competitors train as hard as they do in order either (a) to make the sort of money that American athletes make or (b) to engage in some personal tete-a-tete with the aim of destroying an opponent, without regard for the virtues of glory and achievement.

To illustrate, consider the difference in athletic attitude between college wrestlers and professional basketball players, and I think you'll get a sense of what mean. The professional basketball player, anymore, is of a low, and often thuggish, background, putting money before the pursuit of victory. But toward what, other than glory and excellence, does the college wrestler put his time and pain? So too, I'd wager, for the Olympian.

To be sure, there is something brutish in many an athlete--something from which we recoil when we notice it in some non-athletic setting. But nonetheless, to the degree that we're interesting in praising what's praiseworthy, I'm not sure why the physical achievement of the athlete is so readily dismissed in favor of that of the violinist. Or organist.

But if all you're hand-wringing about is "games mania," I don't really think that the great majority of Olympic sports involve that--as evidenced by the utter lack of enthusiasm with which we attend to most of the sports during their four intervening years. Most of them are pursued for what those virtues pursued in the original Olympics--namely, glory and pride. And if such are the pursuits of contemporary Olympians, then I'm all for the contemporary Olympics.

Most of them, anyway.

[BTW: This smacks of an argument that Ross, a teacher, and I had about six years ago--one that, if I remember right, I was on the losing end of at the time. I believe that Ross and she argued that music ought to be a for-credit high school activity to the exclusion of athletics, while I argued that either neither or both should be considered for credit. No matter now. As Jeremiah-qua-Deuteronomist almost wrote in Kings "All will be revealed in the fullness of time." A lost footnote to that quotation: "All = That Aaron is right."]

Or in internet parlance: Aaron FTW!]

1 comment:

  1. Very well; I shall yield--to an extent. I make the following concessions:
    1. Olympic athletes, compared to commercial American athletes, are relatively less concerned with earning obscene amounts of money and relatively more concerned with the pursuit of excellence. (That's not to say, however, that there aren't too many who whore themselves out to advertisers whenever possible.)
    2. I happen to agree that wrestlers tend not to be of such uniformly low character as most other athletes. Take Plato, for example.
    3. Physical achievement is praiseworthy enough. But physical achievement to the neglect of all else is not. How many Olympians could be reasonably called well-rounded human beings? Would any non-warped person commit every spare hour of their lives from the age of twelve to the age of thirty in pursuit of a shiny piece of medal? (... and then, I might add, be left without a livelihood save training others in such insanity?)

    I still maintain that music is worthy in a way that athletics simply are not. Consider, for example, the medieval quadrivium. Where's curling, eh?

    [Perhaps your footnote is found in the Septuagint. But we all know the Masoretic text is to be preferred...]