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Question why you watch or play sports
A Visionary Society Community Validated Challenge
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Question why you watch or play sports
 

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Challenge
Question why you watch or play sports

Sports has many good qualities, such as expressing deep emotions and establishing community. But it can have unexpected effects, both for ourselves and in society. It can make us more egotistical and less sensitive to others. Use sports to build a culture of excitement and excellence, but also respect and good will.

Visionary Society Principle
 
Thoughtfulness about the effect of actions on others.
 
Details
 
Good effects of sports
– Expresses deep-seated emotions
– Establishes community
– Teaches how to fight for a cause
– Teaches how to persevere in the face of adversity
– Teaches how to be a good, respectful loser

Ways of thinking to question
– See things in black and white.
– The desire for personal glory (either your own or your team).
– The belief that victory is more important than anything else.
– Excessive enjoyment in the defeat of those you oppose.
– Violent language, such as 'killing' or 'destroying', the other side.

Effects of spectator sports
As a mass public event, sports functions partly to keep us acting in socially conventional ways. By developing the habit of being a spectator it distracts us from independent thought and will. It redirects our energy from thought, relationship, creativity – that is, sensitivity to life. It teaches us to glorify ourselves, closing us off from those we don't identify with. It inflames our passion for power and success, which is a primary root of war, and so implicates us in that also, whether or not we support a particular conflict.
Sports is just one of a number of ways in which we are desensitized (and in which we seek to become less sensitive). These include hypnotic music (played at places we have no control over), advertising that preys on fear, presenting of politics in a divisive way in the media, and much more that is part of daily life.
Sports has many benefits. It is an outlet for human emotion and pure entertainment, and a needed outlet for our natural instincts. We are not suggesting that one should stop participating in it. Instead, we want to bring sports back into the world of thought, to make it more powerful, enjoyable – and a force for good.

 
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Share this Request: Speak with other sports fans in person
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Share this Request: Speak with other sports fans in person

If you want to spread this Request you can do it through social media, or directly at a sporting event. Approach fans at any event, give them an Invitation card, and ask them to think about the implications of being a sports fan. Briefly (in just a minute or more) review the following:

"I hope you enjoy this game today! I would like to invite you to think about what it means, not just how it makes you feel. Have you thought about the meaning of being a sports fan?"
Explain what a Visionary Society Challenge is.
Mention how sports can be desensitizing, or how it could potentially be used as a force for good.
Invite them to take the Challenge online.

Goal
– Make them (and the public at large and the owners) think about how they are leading their lives and the long-term effects of what they do.
– Create a mini-climate of meaning at the stadium.

 
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Sports and the Olympics (Erich Fromm)
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Sports and the Olympics (Erich Fromm)

“One has only to recall the wild, crazy enthusiasm with which people participated in the various wars of the past two centuries – the readiness of millions to risk national suicide in order to protect the image of ‘the strongest power,’ or of ‘honor,’ or of profits. And for another example, consider the frenzied nationalism of people watching the contemporary Olympic Games, which allegedly serve the cause of people. Indeed, the popularity of the Olympic Games is in itself a symbolic expression of Western paganism. They celebrate the pagan hero: the winner, the strongest, the most self-assertive, while overlooking the dirty mixture of business and publicity.”

Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be, 117


 
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"This Anglo-Saxon football was not a game at all. It was the Industrial System celebrating a triumph...." (Arnold Toynbee)
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"This Anglo-Saxon football was not a game at all. It was the Industrial System celebrating a triumph...." (Arnold Toynbee)

The historical record suggests a progression toward spillover. Arguably, sport and work originally were independent realms of social behavior. Then sport increasingly provided a form of compensation for work, but ultimately work values and behaviors began to spill over into sport. As a result, sport became less independent or compensatory over time.” Such spillover may occur for various reasons. Among these are cultural values (e.g., the Protestant work ethic, the spirit of capitalism) supporting work and disparaging leisurely and pleasurable activity. The American experience has corroborated the spillover model (see chapter 6). Sport was acquiring the characteristics of work while it was being touted as preparation for work or justified as a “break” from work. Characteristically, Theodore Roosevelt asserted that sport is preparation “to do work that counts when the time arises, when the occasion calls.”666 The prevailing view was that Americans should work until they were weary and then take recreation so they could work again. But as sport and recreation became more work-like, they offered less in the way of refreshment or compensation. Rodgers noted that workers in the Industrial era frequently used time off to engage in an equally strenuous regimen as members of athletic clubs and YMCAs.667 The recreation that took place in these settings revealed few compensatory qualities.

America’s athletes increasingly emulated disciplined laborers. Winning contests and setting records required maximum output that, in turn, necessitated intensive preparation at a pace and intensity reminiscent of the assembly line. The athlete essentially became a producer of performances and records. Efforts to this end were directed by a trainer or coach (the equivalent of the foreman/supervisor) whose goal was to improve the performance of athletes.668 The assembly-line methods applied to the game of college football led historian Arnold Toynbee to comment that “Anglo-Saxon football was not a game at all. It was the Industrial System celebrating a triumph over its vanquished antidote. Sport, by masquerading in its guise.”669 Sports heroes were idolized by the public in the same context as heroic laborers. Mark Twain noted that both river boat pilots and athletes were made into heroes not only for their power, authority, and glamour, but also for pride in their jobs and their salaries.670

Thus did the work ethic divert sport from the model of amateurism. By the late nineteenth century, coaching had become a paid profession, and talented athletes gained the option of being paid to play sports. There had been early instances of paid athletes in the sports of boxing and horseracing. In 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first salaried Major League Baseball team—although some ballplayers had been compensated prior to then. An increasing number of sports careers were made available to athletes who demonstrated the requisite skills. In the first half of the twentieth century, football, basketball, and hockey formed professional leagues with salaried athletes placed under contract. The athlete became a new type of worker who sold his labor power to entertain the general public. Moreover, the work-oriented mentality of paid athletes and coaches gradually infiltrated amateur sports (see chapter 1 l).‘571

The modern Olympic movement attempted to maintain a spirit of amateurism, and Olympic athletes adhered to this principle for a while. Through the early years of the games and into the 19303, the typical Olympian participated in his or her sport as an avocation. Medal-winning swimmer and film actor Johnny Weissmuller epitomized the rather carefree spirit of the era. He would begin training for his event about two weeks before a meet. Elizabeth Robinson, who ran for the American team in the 1928 Olympics, normally trained only three days a week. She won her Olympic medal in the fourth track meet in which she had ever competed. Jean Shirley, who won a gold medal in the high jump at the 1932 Olympics, had never participated in a national meet until she qualified for the games. Olympic athletes of that era were amateurs not only in their approach to training, but in the sense that many of them held full-time jobs to support themselves while they trained

This amateurish approach to training was soon to change. Elements within the American Olympic movement pushed coaches and athletes toward a more disciplined model following the poor showing of the American team in the 1924 Paris games. It was ironic that some of the critics subsequently charged the 1928 Olympic team with being over- coached and over-trained. However, Americans convinced themselves a more work-like approach to training was the key to improving performance. The new emphasis was evident in the escalating training regimen of Olympic swimmers over the following decades. Sixteen-year-old Cathy Ferguson, a gold medal winner at the 1964 games, was swimming [2,000 to 16,000 meters (seven to ten miles) a day. John Nabor, a 1976 gold medal winner, recalled that most trainers by then had established four hours of training a day as the minimum for competitive swimmers.674

Steven J. Overman, THE PROTESTANT ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF SPORT, 207



 
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Can we make sports (and our use of sports) more meaningful?
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Can we make sports (and our use of sports) more meaningful?

Can we reimagine the use of sports so that it is less divisive, but still satisfies our need for excitement and community? By its nature sports involves the need to be victorious. But what does it mean to be 'victorious'? Victory does not mean that one has to defeat another. Instead, victory is just the accomplishment of a goal that is hard to reach. These hard to reach goals include personal excellence, overcoming adversity, persistence and endurance, and learning how to deal with defeat.
Can all this be accomplished in another way? The main thing is that we develop a grand mission or quest that is difficult to achieve, that is worth fighting for, and that has a transcendent purpose (transcending our everyday squabbles and conceits). It could involve the practice and cultivation of skills, beginning with physical activity itself, continuing to creative and intellectual activity, and perhaps reaching a goal of transcendent importance – transcending our need for glory, aesthetics, or external development.
One of these qualities is that we would not only limit our enjoyment in defeating the other, but go so far as to appreciate and even help the opposing side!

– Geoff Bederson


 
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"Every man and woman should spend life in this way, playing the noblest possible games, and thinking about them...." "The character of the games played is decisive for the establishment of the laws… " The Laws, 803c and 797a-c.
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