April 24, 2011

Play fair, run fast and smile for the camera : Why America is different: "Our sports aren't like real life because we want them to be fair."

posted by owlhouse to culture at 10:48 PM - 6 comments

Thanks for the link, owlhouse. That was an interesting read, though when I hear "Anglo-Saxon," I think English, not American. Then again, the whole "fair play" aspect was just a hook for the writer to hang a rather unfocused essay on.

That's not to say the "fair play as Anglo-Saxon value" premise is invalid, or that it doesn't at least have a history. It's interesting to me to hear of its mention in Spanish papers as a foreign concept, as I've mostly encountered this opinion from an English perspective. A.J. Newton's Boxing, With a Section on Single-Stick (1910) is a somewhat old-fashioned example: "the British in particular have bred into the very bone of them independent, and hence on occasion pugilistic, determination... a native of southern Europe in excitement or dispute flies to his knife or dagger. The wild westerner grips his six-shooter, but the Britisher, wherever you may find him, is handy with his fists in an emergency." The rest of the book is full of instructions on fair play.

I think it's telling evidence of a more prevalent American national trait that, upon reading about Anglo-Saxons in a Spanish sports page, Jordan Fraade assumes they're talking about us.

posted by Hugh Janus at 10:27 AM on April 25, 2011

I found it an interesting read, thanks owlhouse. Though part of me can't help but think the whole idea is a opportunity to opine on why only stupid people like football. I do agree somewhat with the whole suburbs vs. cities thought.

Not sure I agree with the whole baseball is an urban game thing, though.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2011

I don't really buy his premise that soccer is left more to chance and less fair than football or baseball, but it's an enjoyable read. Soccer success is far from random. Whenever an underdog plays Manchester United, listen for the announcers to reveal the last time that club beat them. It can stretch back decades.

And no time seems to be simpler, with a more definite sense of purpose, than the 1930s and 1940s. These decades marked baseball's golden age. An increasingly polarized political climate has sometimes made me think that they also marked the last time Americans truly overcame collective hardship, made common sacrifices, and acted as one to make their country and world a better place.

This is an extremely rose-colored view of those years. Read personal memoirs of the Depression like Russell Baker's Growing Up, and you'll find heart-wrenching stories of a generation that couldn't find work and was left purposeless, despondent and dependent on family charity. As for World War II, the U.S. wasn't unified of purpose until Japan attacked.

In hindsight, it looks like a Greatest Generation pulled America up by the bootstraps, ended the Depression and kicked Hitler and Hirohito's ass all over two continents. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. But it wasn't so simple. We muddled through.

posted by rcade at 01:43 PM on April 25, 2011

What an incredibly incoherent essay -- and what a shame, too, because he starts off with an interesting theme: attitudes towards fairness in sports, is it an American thing or an Anglo-Saxon thing or what, and what does it mean. Just as he's starting to go somewhere with this, though, he takes a hot left and now we're bumbling around the old Yankee Stadium of the author's childhood. Waste of ink.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 01:50 PM on April 25, 2011

Speaking as an American, IMO this is just another 'why Americans don't like soccer' whine, albeit a bit better written than most. Still a waste of time to read, though. Soccer isn't as random as this writer thinks, and it started out as another 'Anglo-Saxon' sport, too (has the writer never heard of rugby or cricket for that matter?); the fact that it is now a world sport has changed its nature maybe but I like a sport that is like real life - I have enough phony fantasy to last me a life time coming out of Hollywood, thanks very much.

Besides, the writer is wrong: fair play results in the stronger/better defeating the weaker/worse team most of the time, which is in fact what happens in soccer as in any other sport. If American sports really believed in fair play, they would not have introduced so many fantasy elements to create a false sense of excitement (endless clock manipulation, needless overtime and tie breakers, playoffs that allow weaker teams to sneak in a lucky run to the championship, etc), not to mention parity, revenue sharing, college drafts favoring the worst teams, etc. If I want to see a scripted fantasy, professional wrestling is at least honest enough to do away with the sport and present an outright fantasy instead. Might as well be honest about it and go all the way.

There's nothing more fair, and more ruthlessly Darwinian, then the single table, balanced schedule, home and away, most points wins it, no playoff system of the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, etc. Yes there are bad ref decisions and flukes, but those even out in the long run over the course of a nine month season. The writer doesn't seem to 'get it'.

The writer is your typical American sports fan whose entire knowledge of soccer appears to come from watching a few World Cup matches every four years. If that is the source of your knowledge of soccer, then you are going to come to baseless conclusions based on a woefully inadequate understanding of the game. As this writer has done.

posted by dave2007 at 02:00 PM on April 27, 2011

And no time seems to be simpler, with a more definite sense of purpose, than the 1930s and 1940s. These decades marked baseball's golden age.

Yes, when only good (white) American men played the game.


posted by grum@work at 04:47 PM on April 27, 2011

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