Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The American Sports Dream: Squash-ing the Competition

Today, we're going to bypass politics and world events for a Daily Rev sports roundup. Well, we might squeeze in a little something about politics...

We lead off with the heartwarming story of Albert Haynesworth, who kicked an opposing player in the face on Sunday, during the clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans. He has been suspended five games; the player he kicked has lacerations to the head and face that required stitches.

Does anyone sense an Abu Ghraib analogy here, or have I been reading too much left wing commentary? Perhaps Fat Albert's psychotic break is merely the influence of steroids (both anabolic and even corticosteroids have psychological as well as physical effects); maybe the guy just had his own head whacked a time too often (click the graphic above for a case study of a football head injury precipitating brief psychosis).

But let's stay with the military analogy for a moment. Just check it out: soldiers are trained to kill those they can kill, and forcibly detain those they don't kill. It's their job, and it's a thin line that separates an efficient combat robot from a lawless, murderous beast who is an embarrassment to his chicken-hawk bosses in Washington.

Same thing with these guys on the gridiron: they're trained to inflict pain and bodily harm on their opponents, but they have to also be aware of the line that cannot be crossed. It's not so much that delivering an illegal attack on another player is inhuman or otherwise unconscionable; it's that the refs might catch you and throw a penalty flag, costing your team valuable yardage, and perhaps even the game. And, as Mr. Haynesworth found out, it can also cost you a few fat paychecks.

In America, as everyone knows, sports is a metaphor on life, on competition in general, on combat in particular, and even on government. Consider the case with Donald Rumsfeld in this story reported by the BBC. Here's a quote:

Mr Rumsfeld, currently recovering from surgery on his left shoulder for an injury unrelated to squash, took up the game more than 20 years ago, and last year indicated it had helped shape his military philosophy...Mr Rumsfeld is said to take every opportunity to play a sport he says has helped keep his "sanity'' in a time during which he and the administration have faced growing political pressure. The deep-pocketed politician - who has had a high-flying business career - is thought to have paid around $20,000 for exclusive use of Munich's Parkclub Nymphenburg in February.

So if you or a loved one is a grunt trying to stay alive one more day in Anbar Province, or if you're an innocent civilian in Baghdad praying that the next car bomb misses your path, take heart: Don Rumsfeld is hitting the court and the ball hard for you. And what advice would he offer his soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? Well, it might take the form of “do as I do”—again we quote the BBC article: “Mr Rumsfeld remains stubbornly competitive, hitting the ball well, but refusing to play by the rules.”

Grandmaster Flush

And speaking of cheating, how about this story from the world of chess? Apparently, one fellow is taking too many toilet breaks, maybe because (according to one expert on the game):

You could refer to notes hidden there. You might even keep a small chess computer there to check your tactics. Something like this would be useful. Just a Palm device. It may even run on the Palm Treo phones. This is not useful for a GM ["grandmaster"—the highest level of chess pro] for strategic decisions, but calculating tactics and avoiding blunders it could be helpful.

Finally, we come to my own favorite game, golf. People are still asking how the Americans could have lost the Ryder Cup so badly. Your quick answer is this: the Europeans have a lot of really fine players.

A more extended answer is: the Euros have a lot less of that "me-first, in-yer-face" attitude (see the football story above) in their professional athletes than we do. Thus, the Euros work together better as a team than a ragtag collection of American millionaires.

Now teamwork gets a lot of lip service in this country: if you work in corporate America, I don't have to tell you anything more about that. The reality, of course, in both athletic and corporate competition here, is a brutish and suspicious kind of groupthink that says, "I'm here to get as much of mine as possible, and screw the next fellow, because he's trying just as hard to beat me as I'm trying to beat him."

That's what America's about: beating others. The pummeling may be over money or the lust for limelight, but it always undermines true teamwork.

This dog-eat-dog model has been greedily adopted by our current government in Washington, and the result is in the newspapers (or on the squash court) everyday. Foreign and domestic policy are now run by thieves, pedophiles, assorted criminals, and a coterie of powerful corporate robber barons, all of them either competing or allying on behalf of a fatter slice of the American nightmare, either in the form of money or fame (which are usually conflated in this culture).

Just remember that the greatest prizes in life are truth, health (of both body and mind), and love.

Oh, and before we leave sports for another month or so, you heard it here first: the subway series dies an early death: Tigers in five, Dodgers in four.

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