Sports and Games

ancient-olympics

A foot race at the Olympic games in classical Greece (Bing Images)

© 2016 By Bob Litton

Back in my pub-hopping days one of the denizens at a Dallas bar described me as “that heavy dude”. He wasn’t referring to my physical frame but rather to my tendency to limit my conversations to serious topics. He had a fairly broad notion of what is considered as “serious”.

The immediate spur to his remark was my lament that all the local “watering-holes” seemed to be turning into sports bars, with multiple TV sets scattered throughout. One bar I used to frequent now has five TV sets on the walls of its two rooms, but the only time more than one person watches them is on Sunday afternoons in the fall when the gladiator contests known as American football are being  flushed through the cables. And they are attention-hogging during the endless days of the national championship events. Of course, baseball’s World Series and the triple-crown horse races draw a small bevy of viewers also. But mostly the TVs are there for “ambience” and to make you feel comfy when you’re the only lounger in the place.

I quit going to bars recently — even gave up beer — but primarily for reasons other  than the distraction created by those constantly blinking images on TV screens. Still, the sporting events were a significant part of my withdrawal. I’m just not a fan of sports, particularly of the contact sports such as football and hockey and especially the “extreme” sports that look to me like glamorized street-brawling.

Funny thing, though, is that, when the only stool available at the pub’s bar is directly in front of a TV, I get drawn in. If it’s a contact event I instantly begin to silently root for the “underdog”. If it’s a solo event, such as golf, I become hypnotized by the ball’s behavior. The ball takes front-and-center status only when it’s either  in a sand pit or lands on the green, especially on the edge of the green: that’s when the drama starts; it is rescue and putting time. I quietly gasp in awe as the seemingly self-determined white globe rolls serenely past the hole then does a U-turn, returns, and plops in (I’ve actually seen that). Now, that’s entertainment! But it’s all provided by the ball; I don’t give a hoot about the golfer; don’t even pay attention to his name.

To me, golf is not a sport. True, there is calculation, concentration and occasional slight exertion (at tee-off) involved, but no strenuous action by the body. No, golf is strictly a game.

This is where it gets complicated: What is the difference between a game and a sport? The terms are often used interchangeably by the players and the commentators. Both are contests, but in my view a game is a contest between calculations (aka “strategies”), while a sport is a contest between skills and endurances. There is a degree of calculation in sports, I acknowledge, but it is not what draws the fans and it is not the primary element in winning, while in games it is all that matters.

I read that over the past few years players of chess, poker and bridge have petitioned the International Olympics Committee to include those games in the quadrennial show. What’s next, tiddlywinks?

I also read that the field sports people also want to be included. I don’t know what the IOC has against their inclusion. Could it be that they require too much space? Or perhaps it is because those sports are not sufficiently universal. I am glad that auto-racing is not an Olympic event; it is really just a contest of mechanics’ skills and draws viewers who basically only came to see wrecks and perhaps be treated to the sight of a body being toted off the track on a gurney.

To me, the truest sports are those such as boxing, wrestling, soccer, tennis, swimming, and tumbling, where the human body is fully tested for strength and vigor; and the brain is tested for strategy and constant calculating. Also, in boxing and wrestling the “violence” is minimal and no harm to the opponent is intended; the victor wins on points, not on knockouts.

I recognize that my view of the Olympics differs from the original events in ancient Greece. The Greek city-states put a lot of pressure on their athletes: if a contestant dared come home without a laurel wreath, he was shamed; if he came home a victor, on the other hand, he was treated royally and became a celebrity. Also, the boxing events were bare-knuckled and bloody, pretty much like our modern “extreme sport” boxing.

I wonder if the IOC will ever include TV sports-watching in its lineup of events. I might try out for that, although I have no doubt that I wouldn’t even survive the preliminary trials.

Finis

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