I told him: “I don’t watch sports these days.”
“Oh, no reason. Just lost interest.”
This is, of course, the lie—or, more accurately, the half-truth I told him, and would tell most anyone else, to make sure they don’t run screaming from me at parties. Because what would be honest for me to say would be something along the lines of:
“I’m not interested in sports, because I’m interested in other things a lot more.”
Organized sports have lost most of their appeal to me—not just because of the rampant commercialism obfuscating organized sport itself, but the fact that those commercialized high stakes have largely created an imbalance in sports, manifesting itself in two main areas: Promotion; and sports medicine. Promotion is just what it sounds like, seeking and promoting players for reasons other than their value on the playing field, and exploiting them in non-sports activities, like hawking shoes and sandwiches. Too many sports figures have become commercial celebrities, not because of their playing ability or standings, but because of their high-priced marketing contracts (RGIII, I’m looking right at you… but don’t feel bad, because you’re just the current head of a loooooong line).
Sports medicine has become even more heinous, however: Athletes are taking advantage of badly-written rules and inadequate medical procedures to augment their play with chemicals, steroids and, soon (if not already), gene therapy—essentially thumbing their nose at the spirit of the sport in order to guarantee heightened performance and, ultimately, maximize profit. Athletes are no longer competing against each other, but against fat wallets and the amount and quality of doctors and drugs pumped into the other guys’ system.
Ironically, many of these drugs and technologies were the stuff of science fiction themselves, not that long ago. But while some see it as adding to the excitement of the sports, I just see it as removing the spirit of human competition that is supposed to be the hallmark of sports in the first place. Yes, Virginia, it turns out there are some things science doesn’t make better.
Anybody remember Rocky IV (The Quest for Peace, I think)? The Russian fighter used every miracle of modern bodybuilding, including drugs, I believe, to become the ultimate bruiser… and the result was Apollo Creed killed in the ring. Back then, we cheered when Rocky took him down with good old-fashioned hard work and perseverance, the American Way. Today, we lionize the athletes that bulk up with all that stuff, and laugh at the little guys who can’t keep up.
And then there’s the blatant uncaring on the side of owners for the players themselves and their welfare, as epitomized by the concussion scandal. It’s very clear now that, if the media hadn’t gotten the story and ran with it, nothing would have been done to really help the multitude of players that have suffered serious physical and mental injury from so many head-shots over the years. For the National Football League, at least, that’s particularly damning, and makes it hard to enjoy a football game knowing how the players are still considered as little more than stupid pieces of meat to the owners.
So organized sports are rapidly abandoning real competition for blatant exhibitionism, a win-at-all-costs attitude and blatant disregard for the welfare of its athletes… which takes the interest in them right out of me.
What I’m much more interested in is seeing some of those medicines and gene therapies applied to people who truly need it, like the disabled, or those with cognitive problems, to improve their lives. Combined with robotics and prosthetics, to give people back the arms or legs that they’ve lost, to make it easier to function in this world.
I’m also interested in promotion… of a world that applies science and technology to improving the planet and its inhabitants. I want to promote that to people whose lives depend on science and technology today, but who have developed a hypocritical dislike and distrust of science and what it can do for us. And I want to promote a curtailing of sensationalist media that likes to misrepresent, twist facts, showcase ignorance and fear, and encourage the rampant distrust in science and technology.
And finally, I’m much more interested in looking to the future; figuring out how best to get us there as a society and as individuals; to do what I can to prevent losing 90% of our homes to sea-level rise by 2050, or seeing much of that 90% die due to bad air, disease resurgence, war, terrorism, lack of water, lack of food or lack of common sense and empathy; and, not incidentally, to keeping my wife happy and healthy, and building a long and memorable life.
Now, don’t get me wrong: If you like watching sports, that’s fine for you, and I encourage you to have a good time with it. But these other things have much more of my daily attention than any interest in watching or keeping track of sporting events, however commercialized, exhibitionalized, unfair and dishonest they may or may not be.
So, now that the cat is out of the bag, I’ll be just over there… talking to those guys about the self-driving car that just completed 99% of a cross-country trip without human assistance…