I Just Want to Enjoy Watching the Game

(Dreamstime image: Seanlockephotography)
Sports are supposed to provide an escape from politics.

I just want to enjoy watching the game.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick won’t stand for the national anthem, because he believes America has fallen short of its ideals. St. Louis Rams players take the field with a “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture. The NFL won’t let the Dallas Cowboys wear a decal to honor slain police officers. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers says he likes it when players speak their minds about social issues, but the league discourages it.

Hey, Commissioner Roger Goodell? Players? Coaches? Sports media? Huddle up. I’ll let you in on a little secret:

I just want to enjoy watching the game.

There are 168 hours in a week, and a lot of those hours can be spent discussing the world’s problems — police brutality, lack of accountability among public officials, tense racial relations, crime and threats and dangers and troubles near and far. But for three hours on a Sunday afternoon, or a Sunday night, or a Monday night, or a Thursday night, you know what I want to do?

I just want to enjoy watching the game.

Nobody watches sports because they want to raise their level of “social awareness.” Nobody tunes in to Monday Night Consciousness-Raising. Most sports fans are perfectly aware of the world’s problems. They are much more likely to encounter those problems in their daily lives than any of the well-paid, famous players on the field. I can’t speak for all of them, but I think their mentality isn’t too far from mine.

I just want to enjoy watching the game.

There is no sin in this. Wanting to enjoy a sport as entertainment is not a sign of stupidity, selfishness, laziness, or lack of empathy for others. Enjoyment is what sports exist to provide. Yes, they’ve turned into a multi-billion dollar business and cultural touchstone, but that business is still the entertainment business. It runs on viewers. And do you know what attracts viewers?

They just want to enjoy watching the game.

Sports may be able to teach, or at least showcase, a lot of things — teamwork, leadership, determination, new touchdown dances — but they are unlikely to ever solve any of society’s problems all by themselves. It would be nice to think that rooting for a person of a different skin color, and erupting in joy as he makes the difficult throw or the miraculous catch, would purge any hate or discriminatory instincts from the human mind. Maybe it does in some cases. An old joke in Washington, D.C. is that the only thing uniting wealthy, white northwestern Washington and poorer black Washington is mutual love for the Redskins. Either way, when game time approaches, you know what it would be nice if everyone of every race, color, and creed could do?

Just enjoy watching the game.

Nobody watches sports because they want to raise their level of ‘social awareness.’ Nobody tunes in to Monday Night Consciousness-Raising.

Sports is escapism. It is nothing like the rest of life. We don’t go to work, put on colorful uniforms, run charging toward players from another company and collide, hoping to not tear an ACL. Maybe our work includes a score — sales figures, profits, margins, inventory volume, traffic numbers — and maybe there are days we feel like winners and losers. Maybe our bosses are a bit like coaches or general managers, and we answer to our own team owners. But we rarely get carried off the field after a game-winning play.

Fox used to promote their coverage of the MLB playoffs with the slogan, “You can’t script October.” What attracts fans is the knowledge that no one knows exactly what’s going to happen. Games are unpredictable — unlike, say, political discourse. Fans might see a legendary upset. They might see the breakout performance of an unheralded rookie. Any baseball game could be a no-hitter; any football game could be an overtime thriller resolved on a last-second, bobbled Hail-Mary pass. In any single matchup, you could witness history, magic, the previously unthinkable, a player or team performance that people talk about for decades. This is why people love sports.

They want to enjoy watching the game!

There was a time when the reason you yelled at the sports-talk station on your car radio was completely different from the reason you yelled at the news-talk station on your car radio. If I must listen to Keith Olbermann, give me the Keith Olbermann who had snappy interactions with Dan Patrick, instead of the one convinced he’s the new Edward R. Murrow.

Sports are supposed to be fun. They’re supposed to be entertaining. People speculate whether sports fans will drift away from certain games, particularly football, because of concussions, player strikes, exorbitant salaries, franchises moving cities, too much or too little parity among teams. Yet the game has managed to endure most of those controversies and problems. You know what really will kill it? When it stops being fun. When Inside the NFL becomes indistinguishable from Inside Politics, the people who either don’t like politics at all or who get enough elsewhere will walk away.

I don’t want to “stay woke.” I want to take a nap from the troubles of the world.

When I tune in, I want to hear about whether the Redskins are any good, not whether the team name offends the announcer. I want to hear whether the quarterback is more effective in a shotgun formation, not whether Bob Costas thinks we need stricter gun-control laws. I want to hear about the holes in the offensive line, not President Obama’s unenforced “red line” in Syria.

I just want to enjoy watching the game.

— Jim Geraghty is National Review’s senior political correspondent. He is a New York Jets fan, so all his talk of “enjoying the game” is mostly theoretical.


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