Has sports made us lose our sense of proportion?

There is something mildly amazing about the hold sports has on American society. Billions of dollars changes hands between fans and teams, municipalities fight to pay teams to base themselves in their cities, and sports gambling is an enormous business. Yet let’s discuss a different aspect of sports’ effect on the American psyche, our perception of risk and reward.

Consider this quote from columnist Troy Renck of the Denver Post: “Instant gratification defines modern society. It is followed closely by immediate resolution. Everyone wants an answer yesterday. This works better in life than in sports.”

This works better in life?  What life does Renck live, anyways? A big part of the appeal of sports is that you know who won and who lost, and that there will be a next week, a next season. Balls and strikes, penalties and touchdowns, all are called within seconds of the event occurring. This is so totally unlike absolutely everything else in life that this quote seems to turn the world most of us inhabit on its head.

Was the Cold War won instantly? Berlin Wall fall instantly? Hell, did Apple turn its fortunes around instantly? Are new products introduced after a week’s worth of work? Do you buy a house on a whim? Or, in all of these cases, was there years or even decades of work needed to reach the point where a decision could be made on the success or failure of a project?

More personally for GG, is science the realm of gratification as instant as sports? Are you joking? A scientist can (and often does) go to the grave without knowing whether the hypothesis she or he championed was correct, or whether his or her life’s work was crucial in advancing the field at all.

That a sports columnist now thinks that sports is more deliberate in evaluations and decisions than other facets of life maybe says something about society.  Maybe it says we’ve lost our perspective.  Sports should be a fun release from lives where winning and losing isn’t so clear and the results of decisions can take years to materialize, not the definition of slow deliberation. For if we view sports decisions as the standard for deliberation, we are incapable of addressing real long-term issues society faces.


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