“I know this is heresy.”
by Al Pastor
Never too late for a little John Tunis sanity, especially on the eve of the big game, this from $ports$ (1928):
Man has always, I suppose, been a hero worshiper. Doubtless he always will be. We Americans do not seem to take to religious prophets. We have no Queen Marie, nor even a Mussolini, to raise upon a pedestal. Consequently we turn hopefully to the world of sports. There we will find the material to satisfy our lust for hero worship; there we discover the true gods of the nation. Messrs. Hagen, Tunney, Tilden, Jones, Ruth, Cohen, Dempsey – these become the idols of America’s masculine population, young and old. And why not? After all we ask ourselves, are they not athletes? Have they not been cleansed (and so sanctified) in the great white heat of competition, upon the links or the gridiron, the court or the diamond. That competitive sport – any kind of competitive sport from squash tennis to prize fighting makes for nobility of character, such is the first commandment of the American sporting public. This, in fact, is the foundation of the Great Sports Myth.
Yet, in plain truth, highly organized competitive sports are not character-building; on the contrary, after a good deal of assistance at and some competition in them, I am convinced that the reverse is true. So far are they from building character that, in my opinion, continuous and excessive participation in competitive sports tends to destroy it. Under the terrific stress of striving for victory, victory, victory, all sorts of unpleasant traits are brought out and strengthened. Too frequently the player’s worst side is magnified; his self-control is broken down much more than it is built up. I know this is heresy. I realize that the contrary is preached from every side. (Most fervently, however, the preachers are sports writers, football coaches, or others who have some other direct and personal interest in the furtherance of the Great Sports Myth.) I am aware that the participants in American sports are all supposed to be little short of demi-gods. Yet if football, for instance, is the noble, elevating and character-building sport it is supposed to be why, I wonder, is it necessary to station an umpire, a field judge, a head linesman, and half a dozen assistants to follow the play at a distance of a few yards and to watch zealously every one of the twenty-two contestants in order that no heads and no rules may be simultaneously broken?