The False Comparison Between Sports and Politics

Moments before hosting a NFL preview edition of The Exchange this week, a good friend chastised me for a recent spate of strongly jaded commentary on the American political climate. Something at the pit of her stomach bothered her about my rather dismissive responses to the responses of… well, the responses to every word of the presidential candidates in the upcoming election. Her concerns were not exactly on the validity of my personal feelings about political season, but that they were interspersed with posts regarding sports; something that is, without a doubt, nowhere as important to the country as this upcoming election.

(Sidenote: We’re cool, though. Hi, BG!)

But here’s the thing that sat at the pit of my stomach at 3:30 AM on a Wednesday morning. There’s always been this uncomfortable and inaccurate comparison between politics and sports.

You may have noticed that this time of year, politics are presented in much of the same manner as the games we love. Like bloated pregame shows, our conventions and televised debates have multiple ‘experts’/analysts to provide insights on what the candidates will ‘talk to the people’ about, what points they need to stress, etc. This Scribe’s favorite part is when the analysts predict if candidates will actually win votes based on their actual sentences.

And afterwards, they will analyze how well or poorly both sides presented their points. The funny part about this is that one channel will effuse praise while another rails; though both just broadcasted the same event.

There’s something that has rarely been said, even by the most mainstream and esoteric of scribes. For better or worse, what makes sports go isn’t just the utopist description of the fans; that regardless of socioeconomic, religious or racial backgrounds, people can come together for a few hours to watch a game. It’s that ideally, everyone with a vested interest in the games – participants and observers alike – knows the rules.

Game action cannot pass these clearly designated boundaries. The ball or puck can be advanced this and that way, but only after the whistle. Here is how a player can and cannot use her body in defense of a play.  These are a few commonalties among the different games, but even with some of the slight murkiness that can appear in rulebooks, what is and is not allowed can be clearly understood by anyone, regardless of skill, physical or mental attributes.

When someone seems to violate the parameters given from the games – from an on-field penalty like handballs in soccer or roughing the passer in football to off-field incidents such as testing positive for PEDs – people respond with little to no haste. There are millions of reasons why we do, but at the core of it all, we respond because he or she went against something that’s clear as day, and there are normally penalties for the transgressions.

Tally six personal fouls in the NBA, and the player’s disqualified for the rest of the contest. If you’re caught using a performance enhancer, you’ll be suspended for a period of time. If you’re called to meet with Roger Goodell, without question, you’re screwed.

This is a transparency in sports that only exists as an idea almost everywhere else in society.

When you consider the serious nature of laws, government agencies and social policy, sports aren’t nearly as significant and shouldn’t ever be. Unlike other forms of leisure and entertainment, however, no other entity is juxtaposed to that sober world as sports are.

Maybe it’s because many formerly successful sports figures took office when their sports careers ended. Maybe it’s because these individuals have to perform in some sort of public light, but we learn about the private tensions that can tear unions asunder. Or maybe it’s because we just like to see conflict without someone pulling a hamstring.

When it comes to politics and the vitriol they tend to inspire from all sides, no one in their right minds are going to see eye-to-eye in terms of how people should express themselves, let alone decide which issues are most important. A vast majority of viewers for both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions made up their minds long ago, and similar to sports, are essentially rooting for home teams and cursing the rivals.

Yet, this idea that politics and sports are similar in any other vein is inaccurate and foolish. Besides, could you imagine something like the “practice” rant after a meeting with the President? Hardly.

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