Monday, October 16, 2006

Final sports-related thought, then we move on.

If I read one more article about how the New Orleans Saints football team, currently a surprising 5-and-1, is winning this season because it's "riding a wave of emotion" having to do with the city's devastation by Hurricane Katrina, and is infused with "the soul of New Orleans," rising up again, blah blah blah...I am going to embark on a nationwide crusade to find all of the sportswriters who have embraced such notions, drag each and every one of them out to the nearest football field, and personally kick them through the uprights.

Let me repeat: No, this isn't just harmless feel-good whimsy. It's reinforcement of a currency that's already way too entrenched—to wit, the belief that things happen for purely emotional (or "inspirational") reasons; the belief that success in life is some magical-mystical thing having mostly to do with state of mind (or "forces beyond our comprehension"). It's a near-Dadaist perspective that seems almost purposely to ignore obvious, commonly understood explanations in favor of obscure, eye-of-the-beholder ones, in the process discounting the role of talent and preparation and hard work, thus undermining the respect for same, at least to some degree. And while we're at it, what about the inverse? Doesn't such "thinking" necessarily also imply that teams (and people) who aren't doing so hot in life must be infused with a different, darker kind of spirit? That if you lose, or fail, it's because you weren't emotionally involved enough or, worse, the gods weren't in your corner? What kind of message is that?


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the whole Tiger Woods "doing it for his father" buildup--as if he hadn't been under enough emotional pressure at that point.

Anonymous said...

And I'll tell you something else if you watched the game yesterday the Saints are incredibly lucky to be 5-1 not 4-2. They got a lot of breaks along the way including some blown officials calls at the worst possible time. Or maybe that' just what happens when you have the spirit of Katrina on your side?

Cosmic Connie said...

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m not much of a sports fan, but I do find it very interesting that SHAM-type thinking is so pervasive in the world of professional (and amateur) sports. I rarely listen to sports stuff on the TV news and almost never read it in print news, but even I am sick to death of the Katrina/Soul of New Orleans theme re the Saints.

And I am reminded once again of how selective people can be when speculating about why something did or did not happen. If the Lord is on the side of the team that wins the game, or, for that matter, the people who survive the hurricane or earthquake, does that mean he is not on the side of the team that lost, or the folks who died? And (getting back to a theme in Steve’s previous post), do the athletes who come in second or third in a competition somehow “not want to win” as much as the one who comes in first? (I tend to agree with the idea, elaborated upon by the Rev, that in some cases, “wanting it too badly” is the problem.)

I was really struck by the selective-interpretation phenomenon when I listened to Joel Osteen yesterday, as I occasionally do. Yesterday’s lesson was “God is in control.” The gist of the message was that even if things aren’t going well – you’re drowning in debt, you are despairing of ever finding your true love, etc. – you have to trust that God has great plans for you and that everything will turn out okay. Osteen even seemed to be implying that you should just keep on doing what you’re doing, keep the faith, and eventually things will turn out right for you. He cited several examples of people who were unhappy with their lives, but then ended up being in the right place at the right time, whereupon they met their future spouse, got a great job offer, etc. That, he told us, was God at work.

I don’t really have a quarrel with this belief, and I am sure that many folks took comfort from his encouraging words. Gimme that feel-good religion over that old-time hellfire-and-brimstone stuff any day. Yet I felt that in all fairness, he should at least have touched on the fact that many people end up in the *wrong* place at the *wrong* time. For a moment I actually thought he was going to cite such an example when he started telling the story of how one day about 20 years ago, he just happened to walk into a jewelry store to see about getting a watch repaired. Houston has hundreds of jewelry stores, and he could have picked any one of them, but for some reason he just happened to walk into this one…and there he first laid eyes on Victoria, the future Mrs. Osteen. No word on whether she was throwing a tantrum, but there she was. Turns out, though, that Joel considers this yet another example of being in the right place at the right time. (Oh, bad, bad Connie.)

Anyway… what about the guy who is walking along a downtown sidewalk, and passes a construction site at the very moment that a scaffold comes crashing down from the top floor of a forty-story building, squashing him like a bug? What about the family who’s enjoying a meal at a fast-food restaurant when a gunman comes in and plows everyone down? These would seem to be cases of folks being at the wrong place, wrong time…but where is God in all that? I would at least have expected Joel to touch on this, perhaps saying we have to trust that even events like this are part of God’s plan – but he didn’t, presumably because it just wasn’t consistent with his feel-good message.

At any rate, I guess that since SHAM is so pervasive in all other areas of our culture, we shouldn’t expect sports to be any different.

Steve Salerno said...

CosCon, two or three shows ago on "Real Time," Bill Maher did a hilariously profane closing monologue on the very themes you present here. His ultimate, serious point was that, given that God is supposedly all-powerful, you can't thank God (or whatever "cosmic" forces one wishes to thank) when things go well if you're not also going to curse Him (or more likely Her, given how fickle She is--wink) when things go less well. It's that simple. As you suggest, and as I repeatedly try to emphasize on this blog, it's the same with attitude: If you're going to say that your "winning attitude" won you the game, then you have to look over at the other side of the field and say that their "losing attitude" lost them the game. You can't just pick and choose when you want to invoke this kind of thinking....

Cosmic Connie said...

Or, in the words of the hymn from Monty Python's "Contractual Obligations" album (to be sung, of course, to the tune of "All Things Bright and Beautiful"):

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.

And so on. Complete lyrics are at

Trish Ryan said...

Steve, there is no POSSIBLE way this is your final sports-related thought, given how interconnected the whole sports/motivation/coaching/self-help world is. I have to call you on this. You need to leave the door open, so that when the next NBA player/NFL coach/Pop Warner parent publishes their pearls of wisdom, you're free to respond!

Steve Salerno said...

Trish, do I detect a note of playful sarcasm here?

OK then. We'll say it's my final sports-related thought...for today. How's that grab ya?

Trish Ryan said...

Hi Steve,
If you check out Dave Burchett's blog ("Confessions of a Bad Christian"), he has a personal answer to this whole, "How do you think about God when bad things happen?" issue - his wife is in the middle of chemo, and his posts are impressively personal. Kind of a nice antidote to all the SHAM.

(no need to post this comment - just wanted to pass the site along to you).

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps it helps players' confidence to tell themselves that they are the recipients of Divine Intervention. If so, more power to them. But from my perspective, God wouldn't even perceive sides, much less, take one side over another. The whole "us versus them" mentality is purely a human invention, in which the creator of something as vast as, say, the universe, would have no actual awareness, much less interest.

RevRon's Rants said...

Then again, I could be wrong! :-)