Last week in section, we discussed the story of Caster Semenya and her influence on debates over gender equality and sports. Our discussion reached a tangent when a student posed the following question: Would people still watch sports if every player were born equally talented? My short answer is no. If you want to know my full opinion, read on.
Contrary to common belief, equality is not always desirable. Although the societal tendency is to push towards equality in many regards, inequality is what makes watching sports enjoyable to such a broad spectrum of audiences. Consider the case of Mo’ne Davis. Would the story of a phenomenal Little League baseball player be so widely recognized if the player was a boy? Absolutely not! The sole reason the story of Mo’ne received so much media attention was because she was a female playing a predominantly male sport. In the book Those Damn Yankees, by Dean Chadwick, Gary Sheffield discusses racial equality and standards in baseball. In his argument, Sheffield explains, “You want to know why there aren’t any black players? Because you’ve got to be twice as good as anyone else. If you’re not, you just won’t make it.” The racial aspect of the argument can very easily be replaced by gender. In order for a female to make a male team, she must be a star. Mo’ne Davis was undoubtedly a star, proving to the world she was better than the boys of her age. She faced higher standards, more adversity, and as a young kid, had to overcome the pressures of media attention. Mo’ne learned to play through the sexism and embrace her opportunity, an opportunity she most definitely made the most of.
It is considered prejudice to favor only those who are intrinsically more privileged in various regards including socio-economic class and racial perception. Those who favor Caucasians over other races or males over females are demeaned by society. Society continues to push towards a world in which people are blind to socio-economics as well as gender and racial codes. However, in the realm of athletics, the discrepancy between those who are gifted and those who are not makes sports truly special. Those with intrinsic advantages over others are praised around the world. These polarizing figures can be seen pictured on billboards towering over the largest cities in the world, and on the backs of hordes of people wearing athlete’s jerseys around during their everyday endeavors. Many fans love to watch Tom Brady out will his opposition time and time again, while others continue to ridicule him, and watch with intent hoping that he will struggle. Perhaps the most polarizing figure in sports is not coincidentally arguably the most talented. Due to his unparalleled herculean abilities on the basketball court, LeBron James has been a target of lots of criticism and acclaim over the course of his NBA career. In fact, his free agency signing to the Miami Heat famously known as “The Decision”, was blown out of proportions, and was even featured as an hour-long production on ESPN. Whether they love or hate LeBron, an immense amount of sports fans had enough interest to watch the program. In a league of equality, a free agent signing would be an irrelevancy; however, due to the vast discrepancy people watched intently.
Rooting for the underdog is perhaps even more prominent than cheering for the elites to continue to prosper. This is perhaps because audiences metaphorically connect the success of the long shot with their own lives. Although there are obviously plenty of exceptions there is certainly a correlation between being a religious sports fan and being a member of the middle or lower class. Fans desire a medium to allow themselves to forget about their averages lifestyles, and associate the underdogs ability to overcome their expectations with their own desire to move up in the world. The idea of a Cinderella story, such as the story of the 1980 United States Men’s Hockey Team,
would not be possible if talent level were equal.
Giamatti, in Take Time for Paradise, discusses the religious qualities of sports attached by fan hood. These qualities, in my opinion, are driven by fans ability to attach themselves to their favorite players. Individuals imagine themselves as these players and live their dreams.