December 28, 2007


Steroids and the Culture of Narcissism (Paul Beston, 12/28/2007, American Spectator)

[Christopher] Lasch is best-known for his 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism, which achieved further notoriety when Jimmy Carter called on the author to advise him for his infamous "crisis of confidence" speech that year. Though he tended to look at life in America with the dialectical skepticism of a Marxist, Lasch's insights into how daily life had been degraded and trivialized, so that individuals were only capable of a crippling self-regard, still have value. The book has a chapter on how this diminishment has affected the sports world as well. Though written nearly 30 years ago, it is a penetrating examination of the traits that have gradually eroded sport's once uplifting qualities -- and which eventually may have helped give rise to a full-fledged doping culture.

Lasch differed with critics such as Michael Novak, whose own sports study had appeared a few years earlier, and who felt that sport's decline had to do with its becoming too mixed up in the affairs of the world, indistinguishable from business and politics. That critique is familiar to us today, with stories of athletes and their agents, stadium deals, and "collective bargaining agreements" between management and players' unions that represent a work force earning many multiples of the average American's wages. Alex Rodriguez, in signing a contract extension with the New York Yankees worth hundreds of millions of dollars, spoke of his desire to win a World Series -- and noted that this was an achievement that he had not yet added to his "resume." Try to imagine Lou Gehrig or, closer to our own time, Pete Rose, talking that way.

BUT AS CORRUPTING an influence as money has been, Lasch argued that what was really ailing sports wasn't that they had become wrapped up in the world of commerce but that they had been, on the contrary, sectioned off from the rest of the culture, fetishized into a fantasy world of entertainment and spectacle, thereby severing the ties they once had to our common lives. "It is only when games and sports come to be valued purely as a form of escape," he wrote, "that they lose the capacity to provide this escape." This was a complex and seemingly self-contradictory point: that the more sports focused on entertainment, the less of it they actually provided.

One of baseball's chief advantages over lesser sports is that it is played every day, so the game itself occupies time and space fully and pulses away in the background even when we aren't fully attentive. The actual games of football, by contrast, occur so seldom -- and interesting ones even less often -- that the industry has to gin up other nonsense just to stay in the public consciousness. It's revealing that the NFL Network can't even generate enough programming to get cable networks to buy the channel. They ought to just show old games 24/7, it's not like anyone remembers what happened from one season to the next anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 28, 2007 12:02 AM

That article was silly. Anyone who believes there was a "golden age" of sport is filled with a noxious sentimentality. Read Crazy '08 or Pierce Egan's Boxiana and pretend athletes and fans are worse now than they have ever been. Nonsense.

Posted by: Benny at December 28, 2007 1:46 PM