December 30, 2015
The art and science of baseball fix my attention, raise my heartbeat and incite my awe. Let’s say the bases are loaded, only one out. The batter grounds hard on the line to third, the fielder seemingly uses one total-body maneuver to grab the ball and throw to the catcher whose arm is ready to throw to first as his foot touches home plate. Double play, inning over.
Soccer and volleyball and basketball do their own versions of art and science, no less sophisticated than baseball. I just happen not to be as informed of their game nuances.
American football is a product — may I say it — of graduate-level art and science. I could sit spell-bound for hours watching the professionals do their precise craft. But I don’t. Yes, I watch a bit, but in prayer. I am a sports fan’s troubled soul. Why?
Human bodily harm. I might cite the weekly long-column injury report from the National Football League. Instead I’ll remind you that the Indianapolis Colt’s first-string quarterback Andrew Luck is out for most of the season with a lacerated kidney. The second-string quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is out with a separated rib and and a shoulder sprain. The third-string quarterback Charlie Whitehurst has now been placed on injured reserve. I do not know the particulars of the injury. The Colts are now looking for a quarterback for the final game. This paragraph hasn’t identified what is likely the worst of the football injuries — concussions. How can I not be a troubled soul while watching twenty-first century gladiation?
Illegal drugs. Years ago professional baseball player Jose Canseco publicly charged that pro sports figures were using illegal performance drugs. He was roundly jeered and, as Christine Brennan writes in today’s paper, “right.” Thereafter we learned the truth of the lies and deceptions of Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and many others. The one case that ripped me apart was cyclist Floyd Landis, son of a Mennonite family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania who had the evil balls to use his family’s piety in his false defense. Did Peyton Manning cheat? His denial is much too loud for me.
Economic determinism. Money rules many pro and amateur sports. Why did we have forty-plus bowl games, some of them played by teams with losing records? College athletic departments want more money. Why is Disney, whose Star Wars has grossed more than a billion dollars, now in a troubled economic moment? Because its ESPN can’t survive what college and pro sports teams demand in their multi-year broadcast contracts. Meanwhile players crave incredibly huge salaries while owners assure their own gain. I think it might be possible for a poor family in Indianapolis to feed its four members for more than a month on what one good Colts ticket costs.
On New Year’s Eve there will be two interesting bowl games, one of them involving a Big Ten team Michigan State. Prayer time?