I’ve been a lifelong sports fan. My first memory was of my father’s admiration and awe while watching Gale Sayers, the Kansas Comet, perform feats of gridiron magic for the Chicago Bears. I loved boxing and enjoyed growing up in an era rife with talented and hungry fighters, and one where the heavyweight championship was still considered the greatest and most respected of all titles in the sporting world.
Baseball was and is my passion and though there are those who don’t believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder, tell it to anyone whose Sunday mornings were spent poring over the weekly statistics printed in glorious linotype. And while I admit being spoiled through the miracle of modern media that allows me to watch the game nearly every night, current baseball coverage makes enjoying the game itself next to impossible.
Today’s televised sporting events are a kind of warfare; we are visually and audibly bombarded with soft porn, scatological humor, obnoxious music — the kind authorities blast to flush out our enemies — and violence. And that’s just the commercials.
Likewise, the Olympic Games were, in past days, a joy to behold. Young and old alike thrilled to the pageantry and reverence that accompanied the noble quest to be “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Regardless of their nation’s stature, athletes strode purposefully into the arena, heads and flags held high in hopes of securing honor and glory for their countries through sport.
This spirit of civility and national pride is going, going, gone. Consider the Olympic Oath as sworn in 1920: “We swear that we will take part in the Olympic Games in a spirit of chivalry, for the honor of our country and for the glory of sport.” Today’s oath?
In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.
One should note the replacement of the word “teams” for “country” and especially the removal of “chivalry”; no doubt because of its historical association with Christianity and the efforts of those who fought in its name against Moslem domination of the Holy Land. The modern Olympics are nothing if not a paean to political correctness.
As if it weren’t bad enough that the oath now includes references to cheating, it also seems the powers that be have turned the ancient and venerable Games over to the kiddies. Now included in the pantheon are sports created by and for teenagers in order to “rebel” against the more stodgy winter pastimes. Consider that in the last 25 years, the number of Winter Olympic events has more than doubled, from 38 to 84, supposedly to recruit younger viewers.
And it’s not only the sports themselves, but the presentation. Like virtually all sportscasts, TV encourages adults to stay young by imitating immaturity and taking the rest of us along for the ride. This Peter Pan-ish tendency to avoid growing old is best exhibited by the relatively recent marriage of sports with music. This music is sometimes combined with a wistful nostalgia which can produce a weird mix of hip-hop with a sprinkling of Baby-Boomer banality.
This week, NBC’s Olympic coverage featured an embarrassing Bob Costas interview of X Games graduate Shaun White; a snowboarder nicknamed the “flying tomato.” Trying to appear hip, he asked White if he hoped to parlay his newly won gold medal into “getting babes.” The piece concluded with a montage of White’s performance to the tune of the Rascals’ “Groovin.”
This awful incongruity is on display at most of our “big” sports events. While Super Bowl commercials give us the best (or worst) of modern music, the halftime shows have lately featured moldy oldies. Similarly, we are often treated to the National Anthem shredded by singers of all ages as thousands of tailgate-fueled drunks whoop it up wildly while the majority of us at home grimace and grab for the mute button.
Sadly, it seems that most young viewers and their wannabes need a shot of music with their sports. As for the rest of us, we’ll take them straight. The voices of Mel Allen, Keith Jackson, or Don Dunphy were music enough to our ears.