“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher, ‘Everything is meaningless.'” Ecclesiastes 12:8
Okay, so I’m officially an old fart. I’m reminded of that when I occasionally listen to sports talk radio. I never cease to be amazed at how much enthusiasm and “knowledge” the hosts display over that which in the big picture matters absolutely nil. Overall, I guess I’ve become pretty blase or sated when it comes to sports.
A decade ago I estimated that I’d spent six or seven years of my life either watching sports, talking about sports or fantasizing about being a great athlete. And like I mentioned that was at least 10 yrs ago. Sports are a fairly common male preoccupation (along with sex). But thank God, as I’ve gotten older both obsessions seem to have faded some. The testosterone lamp that lights both is running low on fuel.
However, last weekend there began an event about which I still get excited: the NCAA basketball tourney — AKA March Madness. And for a couple minutes Friday I tuned in 580AM the local sport talk station and the hosts were asking listeners about their first memorable memory of the NCAA “Big Dance” tourney. One caller said well, “Back in 2003. . .” and another, “I remember in 1999 when. . .”
And I thought good grief my first memorable NCAA had Jerry West and his West Virginia Mountaineers pitted against the University of California Bears. Cal won in a close game. We lived in New Mexico then and I listened to that game on the radio with my mother and a engineer she was dating who was a Cal Berkeley grad. Uh, that was 1959. The following year I was back in Ohio and the 1960 tourney featured Ohio State with Jerry Lucas and company crushing the same Cal team. Now those were memorable games. I was tempted to call in but didn’t.
It struck me that most of the callers to this talk show were “kids” in their 20s and 30s who only had the vaguest idea who Jerry West was. To them he was the GM of the LA Lakers and not one of the greatest players of all time. To them, basketball history pretty much started with Micheal Jordan in the 1990s. To them, Bill Russell, Jerry Lucas, the Big-O, Wilt the Stilt and Bob Cousy were all legendary characters they’d seen in bits of archival black and white footage of but had never seen play live, and to them these were not men who would figure in the pointless “who is the greatest of all time” debate.
It almost bothers me that I can still get excited about the tournament. Big money has pretty much ruined it for me. All the really good players are “one and done” — there is no more loyalty to a school. I stopped watching the Olympics back in the 1980s when it became apparent that there were no more true amateurs. Today, sport is all about complex contracts, lucrative endorsements and bizarre sums of money.
I recall reading a biography of Whitey Ford. In the early-1960s Ford was one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball. At the height of his career he was making $75,000. and he marveled at no longer having to work an off-season job. I remember when in the mid-1970s baseball’s best hitter at the time Rod Carew was finally rewarded with a six figure contract– 100K then would be like maybe 500K today– a goodly sum but by today’s standards pretty much peanuts. Today, Ford and Carew would command at least 20-million a year, probably much more. But these men considered themselves blessed to be paid well to play a kid’s game. Today, its all about bling and mega-mansions.
A decade ago I published Satan’s Top Ten Tricks — a perennial best seller in the Northland Church bookstore — on Amazon dot com. . . not so much. Anyway, Trick # 5 is called “Distraction — filling our thoughts with gossip, obsessions, trivia and irrelevant amusements.” Unfortunately, sport is one of those things we fill our thoughts with to keep from looking at life’s big questions. Don’t get me wrong, some amusements are a much needed source of joy in our life–but they tend to get out of hand and become an addiction. I’m glad that I don’t spend as much time watching or fantasizing about sports–but truth be told, it’s not so much that I’ve grown up but just gotten old.