I've never been a huge fan of professional sports. I watch some hockey, a little baseball, world-cup soccer when the bandwagon beckons. Individual, amateur athletics are more compelling. The Olympics, for example. I love stories of underdog triumphs. Countries I once knew only by name now headline the news when one of their athletes excels. But is the spectacle of individual prowess authentic? The big guns like China, Russia, the USA--all funnel millions of dollars to their athletic programs. Canada pours money to its athletes as well. Sponsors come forward, athletes become walking billboards, smile for the television while holding fast-food. Over dinner the other night, my friend Colin raised the question, what benefit does society glean from the success of athletes? What if the same emphasis and funding went to musicians, writers, playwrights, poets, sculptors, painters? Would society benefit more?
Ambiguities like national pride, inspiration are the cursory response. One might suggest most people prefer sports to the symphony, or a play, or a trip through the art gallery because sports are cooler. The very sentiment of these words is manufactured. We've been trained, almost indoctrinated, to place high emphasis on the physical capabilities of people. Pop culture demands it. I don't deny the lure either. But why is a person's ability to paddle a canoe faster than another, or throw an orange rubber ball through a metal hoop, or smack a circular piece of rubber with a carbon stick an instigation of national pride or inspiration? Because it's easy to absorb. Mindless, void of creative thought or process. And what's even more damning is that ascriptions like art form are used ad nauseum in an attempt to intellectually elevate the base.
Perhaps this is a sign of a declining society. If such grandiose support were put forward to the arts, it might prompt equal passions amongst viewers over time. But this too begs another question: would that very same coercion then exist in the arts? Would they become a commodity, an engine for mass consumption? Commercialization of various art is nothing new; bubble-gum music, books, television, prints of nature paintings are more accessible than those weightier efforts of the lesser-knowns. Most of it is utter shit. So perhaps funding causes more problems than it solves. Perhaps a component of artistic merit is the artist suffering his/her way to success. And success then is seen in completely different terms.
Admiration is due to those amateur athletes who work themselves to the bone, carving a niche for their talents. Artists do the exact same damn thing. Refinement, effort, agony. And I know I'm over-simplifying too. Many athletes have artistic interests. And with their newfound fame, they have the chance to be successful with them too. Here comes yet another book from a retired athlete about personal triumph over adversity, a torn hamstring now a metaphor for every day life.
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