When you're out of the country as I was for the past two weeks, no matter how wonderful your destination or how glorious the sites you visit, some homesickness tends to creep in. In my case, although daily blessed to be treading the sacred ground in the Holy Land, I found myself pining for American sports news.
Now, when I was overseas in October of last year, I was appalled but unsurprised by the European coverage of our stock market crash, as reported by the global liberals at CNN International and the BBC. The countless stories on the failure of capitalism and tales of galloping greed that filled the TV screen in my Roman hotel room made me nostalgic for the domestic versions of same, where at least I'd have some World Series news to soften the blows. After all, in America, sports are our escape from an often ugly reality.
So it was that even on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, I found myself scanning the Israeli newspapers for baseball scores in the evenings, when the distant sound of gunfire was sometimes heard. I figured that news of the New York Yankees would be the cure for the tensions that envelop that holy place; except that I forgot that sometimes when we are away from home we tend to over-sentimentalize whatever it is we miss, often creating a rosier picture than is actually the case.
And so on returning home where happily I found that my beloved Yanks had embarked on a winning streak, it didn't take long for reality to hit me between the eyes like a screaming line drive: the American sports scene is immersed in the worst aspects of our culture. Still, I settled in to watch the Yankees play the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies on the Fox game of the week. So happy was I to be back in the embrace of our national pastime, I foolishly neglected to employ my trusty mute button and was thus confronted by a long promo for an atrocity called The Hangover.
As I wrote last year, I have given up wondering when sports -- which used to be a way to encourage young men away from more dissolute pursuits -- has now embraced all that is debased in our modern culture; the objectification of women as sex toys, vulgar language, egotism, and violence. All of this was on display during The Hangover promo and another one for a flick aptly titled, Drag Me to Hell; both of which would have never appeared in prime time a few short years ago, but now invade our homes on a Saturday afternoon.
Sadly, the trash emitted from Hollywood has now found its way onto the playing field; so much so that I sometimes feel that baseball itself has become some kind of perverted cross-promotion. There is so much violence and egomania in sports today, that you get the idea that it's not enough to simply defeat one's opponent; you must humiliate and "own" him. In watching nearly all of Michael Phelps's Olympic victories, I don't recall any expressions of elation or happiness, just a series of violent shouts and angry gesticulations.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the joy and sportsmanship went out of sport, but a good starting place would be with Muhammad Ali and his worshippers in the American press, who viewed his ascension as kind of a payback to his supposed white oppressors. But it is no longer restricted to race. Although he has the best example of how a great and gracious ballplayer should act in Mariano Rivera, it seems that Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain cannot record three outs without furious displays of fist-pumping arrogance, simply for doing his job. Similarly, the chest-thumping antics and "look-at-me" poses adopted by home-run hitters are great examples of humility and team-play for the kiddies, no?
Yet all of this is tied to noxiously saccharine promotions -- MLB produces PSAs to teach kids the value of perseverance and teamwork -- that purport to further the message that our sports telecasts are aimed at and produced for 'the children'; a horrible and chilling thought. And this is only baseball, the more genteel American game; the goings-on in the NFL and the NBA are even worse.
With all that's going on in our country today, it may seem like a desire for the return to purity in baseball is a trivial thing, but those familiar with the relationship between the game and our national ethos know better. MLB can do more to clean up the game than pointless drug-screening, and they certainly control the process of awarding broadcast rights to the networks. Let's do our kids a favor and keep the filth, violence, and egotism where they belong: in Hollywood.