For the Love of the Game

With Eric Cohen. The New Republic, March 26, 2008.


The Super Bowl is over. March Madness is fast approaching, with NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs close behind. Spring training for the new baseball season has begun. Year after year, season by season, sports fans across the country shift their attentions, polish their loyalties, and renew their hopes: maybe this year, just this once, it won’t again be “wait ’til next year.”

For many decades, America’s most significant athletic contests have been our most popular civic rituals, temporarily removing us from the normal rhythms of everyday life. Medieval Europeans built cathedrals; our ancestors built civic monuments and memorials; we build sports palaces. There we gather, not only vicariously to taste the sweetness of victory but also to celebrate together all that is perennially great in human sport–excellence, grace, and the intense moments that separate triumph from tragedy. It is easy to dismiss sport as a triviality, and some highbrows will always do so. Yet these games that youngsters play somehow seem to capture both the lowest and the loftiest possibilities of embodied human life, eliciting in participant spectators and spectating participants the full range of human passions, from rapturous joy to paralyzing despair.

American Enterprise Institute