Why so serious? – The Odd State of Sports

As I joined nearly all of Ann Arbor in watching one of the biggest games Michigan football has played all season, I began to realize just how serious sports have become throughout modern society. As humans, we have turned what is seemingly a simple game of football, into an enormous spectacle for all to see. After watching Michigan grind out a close 18-13 win versus Penn State, I was left wondering when did sports really become this serious? As many of you already know, in our recent reading, Dunning explains how the professionalization of sport has forced competitive sports to become more serious. I did not originally agree with Dunning’s position due to the fact that it seems that sports have always had a serious component to them. From the ancient Greek games to the modern Olympics, it seems that people have always taken a serious approach to sports. After all, it is only human nature that we desire to compete with each other in order to gain status and establish dominance. However, after watching the Under the Lights game between Michigan and Penn State, I began to realize what Dunning may have really meant when he explains that sport has become more serious. 

As I watched the game, I began to be amazed at just how much attention a game between a 2-4 Michigan team and a seemingly untested Penn state team was gathering. After a couple of weeks of dwindling crowd numbers, Michigan was able to gather 113,000 fans together to cheer them on to victory. After seeing this number of fans flash across my screen during the game, I began to question the true significance of this game. What would honestly make 113,000 fans (not to mention the number of national television viewers) desire to see these two teams play? Why would Devin Gardner “will” himself back into the game, when he was clearly injured, for a game that essentially does not matter? I was stumped when trying to figure out an answer to these questions, especially when pondering the negative news that has surrounded the Michigan program recently. Then it hit me. Dunning was right, sports actually have become more serious. There is no other explanation for hosting this big of a spectacle for two mediocre teams. There is no other explanation for Devin to risk his future health for this one game, other than the fact that “it matters” — not just to him but everyone involved. When I originally considered Dunning’s argument, I looked at only the perspective of the players and coaches. I disagreed with Dunning’s argument because it did not seem to me that sport/play had become any more serious for the players or coaches. It was my point of view that regardless of when you played a sport, sports have always had a certain level of seriousness because of human’s desire to compete and gain status. While viewing this game between Penn State and Michigan, I began to become more aware of the rising level of seriousness in sports.

Fans, administrators, and even corporate sponsors have begun to propel modern sports into a whole new “level” of seriousness. This became even more evident to me upon viewing last Saturday’s game. From the advertisements on television to the Michigan Marching Band’s eccentric halftime show, sports have taken on a whole new level of seriousness.

Michigan Marching Band’s halftime show.

After seeing all of the “fine details” that helped make this night game possible, I began to understand just how serious each “detail” is to a specific individual. Sports are so influential that they have given individuals — who are not even playing the game and essentially have no “real” connection to the game — a role. Ultimately, Dunning was right. Sports have become far more serious for many different individuals. As fans, we dress up and invest in tickets to cheer on our teams, letting each game’s result effect our mental state. As administrators, we look to maintain the essence and status of our team or organization through success. Even as sponsors we take on a level of seriousness during “play” by investing large amounts of money into programs and hoping that they successfully represent one’s company. The emergence of business and sponsorship throughout sports has forced people to take “play” more seriously in all levels of sport. Now that money is involved, sports all of a sudden matter. I believe that this was what Dunning was trying to illustrate in his argument that sports have become more serious due to the conflict between professional and amateur sports.

An increase in advertising and sponsorship has led to a more serious atmosphere in sports.

It seems Dunning was trying to explain that it is not necessarily the game itself that has become more serious, but rather what surrounds the game. Business and entertainment industries have seemed to turn sports into a spectacle, or what some may consider a “production” in which each individual has a role. It seems that as humans, we have become less concerned about the actual outcome of the game and more concerned with what that outcome may bring in the future. Whether it may bring money for potential pro-athletes, more attention for sponsors, or even a social media post that brags about our teams success for fans. Sports have become more serious because we have allowed them to. Sports are no longer just one specific aspect of our lives, instead we have allowed them to expand and influence many other aspects of our lives. As a society, we have come a long way from sport being just a form of leisure; today even essentially irrelevant games have become much more meaningful for many individuals. In the modern sports world, fans are willing to do nearly anything to prove their “seriousness” for their team (including physically harming someone else).

Ultimately, as individuals in today’s society we care more about sports than our ancestors did, which could be why sports have become far more serious. Whether it is the amount of time a fan spends supporting their team, the number of days an athlete is in the weight room, or the amount of money a sponsor has invested into a program; each individual has “invested” something that has forced a more serious atmosphere throughout sports.

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2 thoughts on “Why so serious? – The Odd State of Sports

  1. Well Said! i agree that sports have become much more important and serious in today society. I would argue this is for a few reasons. First, i believe money plays a huge part in this change. Second, i believe it is now the case that a fan does not go to the game just to see the game, they go for the experience.

    There is no doubt that money has changes the game. Even at the college level where players aren’t paid there is still huge amounts of money on the line. From salaries, to scholarships, to sponsorship there are literally millions of dollars riding on every game. For obvious reasons, this leads to a stronger desire to win for the people directly involved. What is not as obvious, however, is why this makes it more important to the fans. While yes there are some fans who have money riding on the game, the vast majority have no financial stake in the outcome. I would argue that these fans become that these fans become so invested because they see how high the stakes are. Even though it does no affect them directly they know how much every game means to the team and those directly affects. These peoples passion for winning is felt by the common fan and i believe they absorb and show some of these feelings themselves.

    When attending a game there are few fans who show up, watch the game, and leave. It is about so much more than that. The tailgates before, the introduction videos, the halftime show, the vendors, and of course the other fans all make up the fan experience. Because it is about the whole experience as opposed to just the game the scale on which these competitions are held has completely changed. Every thing is made extravagant and grandiose to enhance the experience. A side effect of this is that not only do the side things become intensified but so does the game.

    These are only two of the many reasons i believe sports have become so much more important.

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  2. I completely agree that sports have become too serious and have absorbed many of our lives. Most of my Saturdays and Sundays are devoted to sitting down and watching football all day. Watching the Tigers this year in the playoffs was painful. My emotions would swing from high to low with each pitching change, and after we were swept, I was pretty upset for the remainder of the day. Sports has taken our time, money, and emotion from us.

    I also agree that money has changed sports. Being a professional athlete is idolized. The money and fame drive the competitive nature of these sports but also make people do crazy things. Many high school athletes are using performance enhancing drugs as a way to gain a competitive advantage over others. While this usually boosts performance on the field, there are serious health risks involved in taking these.

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