Do you remember that scene in Firefly where they are playing some weird futuristic version of halfcourt basketball and the proximity alert goes off? Wash yells, "Oh my god, what could it be? We're all doomed! Who's flying this thing?
That's kind of the way I feel right now, except we don't even have a pilot seat for someone to hop into.
Which is why we need a czar.
Czar is such a fun word. Gotta say, English is really dropping the ball on the cz possibilities, but I'm glad we held on to czar to keep things a little more real. It's just, um, what is a czar?
A tyranical communist dictator?
I don't think that's actually what a czar is, but I love the idea of a communist dictator. Not very democratic, but the idea of being in absolute control of everything for the good of the collective is pretty much exactly what we need right now.
No, I'm not talking about the ridiculous farce of our political machinations that are pitting a skeezy fundraiser against a leaky traitor against a complete fool with a whimsical idealist standing in the corner. Yeah, have fun deciding which (wildly hyperbolic) pejorative applies to which presidential candidate.
I'm talking about the increasingly obvious need for oversight in our multi-trillion dollar Sports Entertainment Complex.
Our infatuation with sport is the cultural intersection that fascinates me more than any other. The reason I have a blog at all is because this sprawling social construct of an athletic culture is pervasive these days, and growing in prominence both individualistically (more important to the individuals to whom it is important) and collectively (more visible in our shared technosocial space).
I love thinking about sports, why some players have more success than others, why some teams function better than others, how some organizations operate with more functional stability than others, why some fans are more enthusiastic than others, but much more than that I love thinking about why we think about sports so much.
I love thinking about the question that I get from my non-enthusiast friends every year the day after Arizona loses in the NCAA tournament, when I am drowning in a morose funk.
"How does a bunch of teenagers you've never met losing a game you've never played ruin your day?"
Why do sports mattter? Or rather, why do they matter this much?
This is the question that is at the heart of our need for a sports czar. We don't ask for governmental oversight when a given television network consistently cancels wildly popular shows, which seems like a betrayal of the tacit symbiosis with our entertainment industry (yes, we're all looking at you, Fox. #Firefly #neverforget).
Sports matter because they are more than simple entertainment.
Sport is community, a fabric of common contention connecting us with members of our society with whom we might never engage otherwise. As an example, consider the two different colleges I have attended: the University of Arizona and Antioch University Seattle. One of those schools has a vibrant alumni association that gathers to network whenever either a football game or basketball game is on television, and garners spontaneous fellowship and a "Bear Down" whenever that gorgeous block 'A' is seen. The other has a mascot that looks like this:
What gets overlooked in organizations that disdain athletics is that sports offer so much more than just the spectacle of athletic competition. Some examples:
Communal rituals - in a society that is increasingly moving away from traditional 'religious' identification, there are few opportunities for regular community gatherings. Sports, particularly the once a week varieties like football and footishball, provide an excuse to gather with friends and loved ones once a week for fellowship and the breaking of bread, while extrapolating life lessons from the catharsis being played out before us.
Youth development - As John Wooden famously said, when asked how he consistently does such a good job of producing great basketball players: Coaches aren't in the business of making basketball players; we are in the business of making young men, using the game of basketball. Our sports youth leagues teach children how to value themselves, and others, how to set goals and collaborate to meet those goals, how to strive for success and recover from failure. As the best NCAA commercial put it, there are thousands of collegiate athletes, and the vast majority of them go pro in something other than sports. They all go on to be human, however.
Temporary opposistion - We thrive on opposition, our entire economic system is built on the premise, and sports offers that opposistion with a temporarity that allows us to walk across the bar and shake the hand of an opposing supporter after a vibrant competition, the very impermanence of the conflict serving to provide foundation for commonality and community.
We need a czar because undermining our confidence in these games undermines the fabric holding us together as a society, and I no longer have any confidence that our sports commissioners are looking out for our collective best interest.
I understand that Roger Goodell is very invested in 'protecting the shield' but he seems to be failing to understand that the shield doesn't just stand for the titanic capital generation engine that is the National Football League. The shield also stands for the relationship between that singular entity that is the NFL and the singular entity that is the rest of society, including those who don't watch football.
We need a sports czar, as a political office, because we need to expand our thinking to include non-enthusiasts. The taxation associated with our Sports Entertainment Complex affects all of us, regardless of whether we are emotionally attached to the given teams or sports associated with a specific taxation. We need a sport czar because of this:
(Graphic courtesy of Deadspin)
Sport is increasingly something that affects us all, and I do not trust the corporate managers of these leagues or teams to make the right decision.
The upcoming election season has gotten me thinking about what it would look like if we had a sports czar as an elected official, as opposed to the appointed position which does seem more likely. If, however, the universe conspired in our favor and provided an opportunity to elect someone to oversee this jumbled mess of an athletic culture, here are some of the things I would love to see candidates debate and build platforms around:
Tell me that you wouldn't watch a panel of pseudo-politicians debate policies like these. In fact, we should choose our pool of candidates based on how entertaining the debates would be. Who do we want up there?
Bill Simmons announced his candidacy almost a decade ago, and I wouldn't object to putting him on the ballot. I love the way Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinks, speaks, and writes. Condoleezza Rice would be fantastic in the debate, and already has political experience that others on my list really don't. I mean, I don't know if he is even particularly interested in sports, but I would want to put Jon Stewart on the debate panel just for the entertainment factor, and I hear he has a little more time on his hands these days.
Of course my favorite candidate probably won't be eligible for the office if we should happen to make this move any time in the next decade, because he is still in the midst of a stellar playing career, but I know who would get my vote: Richard Sherman.
In this beautiful hypothetical world where we get a czar to offer the kind of oversight and societal direction that our thriving athletic culture so desperately needs, who would you want sitting in the office, or at least participating in the debates? Does your favorite sports commentator seem to have a finger on the pulse of our sports culture? Do you think we should just put your dad in charge already? Let me know in the comments!
Thoughts on culture, community, and development.