"We like it" - violence and sports

“We like it.”

This phrase cut through all the nuances of a the day-long discussion on a local sports radio around the issue of violence in hockey (is “nuance” possible on sports radio!?!). Analyzing levels of injury and assessing the impact on the tradition of the game involve speculation and debate. “We like it” offers the truth.

I’ve spent much of my life as both a fan and participant in sports. In fact, sports has been a key arena for my own personal growth, a place to develop character and social skills that have shaped who I am today. In many ways, sports can serve as a training ground for life. Despite many problems with professional sports (e.g. celebrity culture, $$$), integral to its’ entertainment value is its’ mirroring of life - we can identify with the struggle, loss, victory, and perseverance of the individuals and teams we follow. Sports is inspiring.

But then I face the issue of violence and sports and “we like it” rings in my ears. Despite all the benefits, the fact we “ooh” and “aww” at every wild fight in hockey, concussion-inducing hit in football, dirt-kicking dispute in baseball, and every other violent outburst we find in sports, calls into question just how inspirational sports really are.

I’ve had someone comment to me personally that sports (I played contact football as a young adult) gave me a platform to practice assertiveness and conflict. Typically a conflict-avoider, football was a context where I actively participated in conflict, at times violent (in a controlled way). This was seen as a good thing. And for the most part, I agree.

Or perhaps you’ve heard sport referred to as an “outlet” for aggression. There is the joke about pastors and Christian leaders in sport - the basic punchline is “watch out!” In this sense, sport creates an alternate reality where we can “let loose” - violently at times - in ways real life doesn’t allow.

Yet I wonder, what does this say about real life - conflict, struggle, and relationships - if we need a platform for our aggression and violence?

I still love sports. It’s hard to beat October as a sports fan! And I continue to benefit in life from my years as an athlete. But I also need to admit that there is a tension between sports and real life. And violence in sports exposes the tension - this dark side that exists in the alternate reality of sport.

“We like it” can’t be our only guide to accepting and participating in sports and violence. If we continue to accept the value of sports and character development, we need to develop the character to accept that “we like it” just isn’t good enough.

To use an old sports adage, we can and must do better.


Anonymous said...

I recognized the value of physical exertion in and "letting loose," especially in some sort of "destructive" violence in my teen years. I use physical labour (often chopping wood) to balance this out.

My athletics consisted of shot put and hammer in highschool. Also great forms of outlet for aggression.

We need to see a difference between taking out that aggression by doing something productive and taking it out against another human being.

David Warkentin said...

Good distinction Mark - aggression in general vs. aggression directed at others. Not sure what this means for sports with physical contact... Where do we draw the line? I can't stand UFC, but remain a hockey and football fan. Is this hypocritical? Or can we distinguish between appropriate and innappropriate violence in sports?

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