Finding the Balance in Sports

What is The Sporting Metaphor?

I have a love/hate relationships with sports. On the one hand, I follow a few select teams:

  • The Portland Trailblazers,
  • The Seattle Seahawks,
  • The Seattle Mariners,
  • The Vancouver Canucks,
  • The San Francisco Giants,
  • North Carolina State University teams (my undergrad alma mater) and,
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

(Yes, I am very used to disappointment. Thank you for asking.)

On the other hand, I don’t actually watch games and I tend to have more criticism of professional sports than I do praise. Yet, as I said, I do ‘follow’ sports. For the most part, that means looking at box scores, reading recaps, and watching highlights online.

In order to come to terms with all this, I figured out a few important truths about sports:

  1. ‘My Teams’ are almost all loyalties I formed at a very young and impressionable age: my great-grandfather was a Mariners fan from day one, my first bike was a Seahawks bike, the Blazers were great when I was a kid in Portland, my friend and I chose the Buccaneers over the Dolphins after I moved to Florida just to be contrarian, I had to pledge my Carolina/Duke/State allegiance within hours of moving to Raleigh, NC, etc.
  2. I love numbers, statistics, trivia, and stories.
  3. I find the professionalization of sports–the money involved; the fact that we are rowdy fans of an athlete until the day their body begins to break down and they no longer help our team… at which point we boo them and celebrate when they get traded or they retire (at which point we usually don’t care about them ever again); and the role-model status of men and women who give a false sense of hope and morality to young people, many of whom are without many positive role models to aspire to.
  4. I don’t have much interest in watching an entire game in any sport;  I’ve got better things to do.
  5. Sports can teach us a lot about the culture in which they are embedded.

And it is really from this last point that the idea of The Sporting Metaphor is born.

The simple idea behind The Sporting Metaphor is that sports are yet another filter through which we can understand culture. While I am not the first to think of this idea (for example Clifford Geertz seminal work “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” (note: this link will take you directly to a PDF)), I feel that this metaphor has served me well so far in my travels and I embrace it as ‘my own’ cultural filter. Just as we use Italian Art, French Cooking, Greek Architecture, Indian Yoga, or Chinese Kung Fu to filter our perceptions of a place–on other words, to build the scaffolding on which we can hang an understanding of cultural notions and societal values–we can use sport to understand cultural ‘rules’.

Think about how sport–from the rules which govern play to the reflection of politics in international competition–are often the harbingers of change. I submit the desegregation of baseball or the ‘Miracle on Ice’ as two such examples.

Thus, it is through cultural filters and numbers that I approach sport. Throw in compelling tales and useless trivia* and–as a writer, traveler, and thinker–you’ve got me hooked.

The question now is, how can you use The Sporting Metaphor? Comments welcome!

*Probably my favorite bit of trivia so far comes from the time when the San Francisco Giants had Willie Mays and Willie McCovey at the heart of their batting order. They batted back to back and when they came up, the announcers would say that the Giants were “giving the other team the Willies”.


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