Issue #65, 1/11/2007
A Terrible Male Affliction
Family Court Philosopher
NOTE: A revised version of this essay is available as Kilroy Cafe #10. (Go there first!)
Mental illness is the great unrecognized scourge of our society. It underlies most violence, child abuse, homelessness and drug addiction. It saps families and communities of their resources, and in most cases there is little hope for recovery. Although many mental disorders can be easily diagnosed, they usually remain untreated, in part because the victim himself can't recognize his own disease.
One little understood disorder afflicts primarily males and is so pervasive in our society that it is often seen as "normal," in spite of its devastating effects. It has spawned a huge legalized industry of pushers and traffickers who provide the vulnerable victim with the illusion of happiness. It is a fevered addiction that draws the victim away from productive pursuits and encourages him to neglect his family and responsibilities.
I am speaking, of course, about spectator sports and the insidious hold they have on the male brain. The average male, if given the opportunity, will watch sports all day long, discuss sports continuously with other males and act as though sports really meant something, while all productive and socially conscious activities fall by the wayside.
Why does it matter who Notre Dame is playing this weekend? IT DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING! Which team wins the game has absolutely no bearing on any conceivable human problem. I don't see how it can even qualify as "entertainment." A ball gets thrown around a field in exactly the same way it was done last week, and in living rooms around the country, you have clusters of males gathered around the screen, transfixed and thoroughly engaged as though something important was happening. Every so often, the room erupts in communal groans, explosive cheering and vigorous whoop-whooping, and you have to wonder, "What kind of insanity is this?"
Obviously the sports gene must have skipped me, because I have never understood the addiction. For a while I tried to speak the language of my brethren, but I never had the inner feeling for it. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that the lust wasn't in me. I have since "come out" to my parents and close family members, who recognized from the beginning that I was different, but I am still reluctant to reveal my true tendencies in public for fear that I might be seen as, you know, "fruity" and somehow not a man.
"What do you think of those Lakers?" some naked guy will ask me at the health club, as ESPN plays on the TV screen just above him.
"A fine football team," I reply.
That's a clever way I have of deflecting attention away from my own sports disinterest. I try to make a joke about getting the sports mixed up. I pretend like I can't even tell basketball from football, which is basically true, and hopefully they will laugh and the awkward moment will pass.
The alternative would be to announce, full-frontally, that I have no interest in sports, which would be akin to revealing flamboyant homosexuality. Being that both the questioner and myself are naked, I usually find it socially prudent not to disrupt the underpinnings of male communication. Without sports, many males are truly naked and would have nothing at all to talk about with each other.
Except about women, of course, which brings up an interesting parallel. The male's obsession with sports resembles in many ways his inexplicable interest in pornography. Both are useless, repetitive "watching" behaviors that serve absolutely no function yet seem to fascinate the male to no end. I mean, how many times can you view bulbous, jiggling breasts and the crude sex act and it be interesting? Turns out, men can do it quite a bit, but the interest only lasts up to the moment of their own release, at which point the whole fascination with gynecology and the female form instantly vanishes.
Sports can be even more wasteful in that there seems to be no obvious point of satiation. An average male can watch mindless sports until all the pizza is gone and the fridge runs out of beer, and still he is ready to do it again as soon as those supplies are restocked.
Pornography has an evolutionary basis. Obviously, there is a reproductive role in a male wanting to inseminate anything with two breasts, and for the unfortunate fellow without his own harem, watching it being done on video seems to serve as an acceptable substitute. (Pornography is more cost-effective at least, since a real harem can be very expensive to assemble and maintain—not to mention the feminine bitching and theatrical scheming that comes with it. No matter how appealing harems may be in the male imagination, in my opinion they are just not worth the politics of implementation. But I digress.)
The sports obsession, however, is harder to explain. Perhaps it, too, has an evolutionary etiology. There must be some primitive emotional urge within the male brain to gather together with other males in a "team" and try to beat the crap out of other teams. You could call it the "combat imperative." In modern society, males rarely have an opportunity to engage in real combat, so perhaps watching it done in a staged environment serves at least the neurological need.
Males also seem to have a built-in predisposition to the collection of statistics and arcane facts, an illness that I call the "Male Data Collection Syndrome" (MDCS). I myself am a recovering victim of this addiction. If you give me access to any kind of structured data, like the arrival time of the trash truck on Thursdays, I will be inclined to write it down, build a spreadsheet and plot a graph with that data, no matter how useless it may be. Sports provide ample opportunity for such vapid statistical analysis, as numbers are generated every time someone throws a ball or swings a bat.
The people who suffer are the families. Our nation is full of children who are forced to grow up without fathers, even when the sperm donor is physically present in the home. All potential "quality time" is absorbed by the sports addiction, and unless the children can quickly learn to speak the language of the sports world, they are effectively left to raise themselves.
I pity also the typical female, who married a male under the naive assumption that she was getting a "partner." The legend of the "football widow" is no joke. Everyone tries to laugh it off, but how can you have a meaningful relationship with someone whose first love is a team of handsome guys? Sadly, due to the year-round, 24-hour sports cycle, there is now no relief from widowhood for many wives, who see their romantic dreams being sucked away by ESPN.
It isn't unfaithfulness exactly, but it isn't the kind of undivided attention the woman thought she would get.
“What a hoot! I laughed out loud! Unfortunately, the affliction FDCS (Female Data Collection Syndrome) is even less studied but can result in huge wastes of resources tracking such things as weight fluctuations, service life of sweeper bags and mascara brands. And to the earlier commentor - I would argue that although there are indeed female sports fans, there are VERY few addicts. I myself enjoy a Sunday afternoon of football, but can pull myself away from the 24/7 commentary and such and would submit that most "fans" could, as opposed to the addicts who can't even articulate the problem! Also - loved the picture in the essay!” — 1/12/07 (rating=5) ... Response from Webmaster: For the comparable female affliction, see the next essay.
“I liked his vocabulary.” — 1/31/07 (rating=3)
“funny social commentary-right on target” —firstname.lastname@example.org 2/3/07 (rating=4)
“amen!” —human from the 3rd rock of your sun 3/25/07 (rating=5)
“you seem to have a deep rooted anger problem towards evertone” —Rhinestone Cowboy 7/1/07 (rating=0)
“A wonderful expose of the stereotypical male attitude toward sports. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with the author's secondary comment that female addicts could be brought back into line by rebalancing their hormones, if he wants to hold to the opinion that the cause of the addiction is a gene. Otherwise, one could strongly argue that the author's lack of interest must be caused by a defficiency of testosterone (per standard male hormones, anyway). Aside from that, a well placed pot-shot on behalf of those who would rather play a game than watch it and are also smart enough not to understand American football. Or rugby; more violence with less logic. At least they're trying to remove themselves from the gene pool.” —Real Men Wear Pink 2/21/08 (rating=4)
“Glenn, I can fully relate to your dilemma. I have completely no interest in sports either, and often get into awkward situations with that. Sports is so prevalent in most western cultures (not sure with eastern, but I have a suspicion they're just as excited about sports, even if they're different kinds).. I think it serves some kind of inherent human need; however I found it curious that I have no such need whatsoever. I wouldn't even know what sport "Lakers" are playing, whether it's football, baseball, basketball.. All of this is not a problem for me except in business settings. When I represent my own company, have lunch with clients, etc., often they want to speak about sports. I don't want to offend them that I don't know anything at all about it, so I try to switch to another topic the best I can. At the same time it's frustrating to me, why do I need to know anything about sports, in order to discuss with someone my capabilities as a software development consultant? I often wish business was more businesslike.” —Mark R. 10/26/08 (rating=3)
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Page Started: 1/11/07