2014.10.10 Sports Are Social Oil

While having tea the other day, a couple - evidently visiting with the people next to us - started out greeting them with "Did you see the game yesterday?"

This is not an unusual occurrence in USA. On the contrary, it is a very normal office Monday morning greeting.

While in no way saying that sports events are not common or not taken seriously in other countries, the regularity with which major thoroughfares are closed off, lanes are turned so all traffic is going to or from a ball park depending on if the game is about to start or end, the amount of sports memorabilia sold, match nothing I have seen anywhere else.

I lived right next to the national ballpark in Copenhagen for some years, so I did observe the Danish sports mania when the national soccer team or local teams filled the bleachers. The crowds can be quite enthusiastic.

This is something else.

Originally, when I first moved to the U.S., I thought this was just an effect of the American culture overall being much more competitive than Danish egalitarianism.

But later I have come to understand that there may be something totally different going on.

Read this introduction to an English weather discussion from Kate Fox' "Watching the English":

"The capricious and erratic nature of our weather ensures that there is always something new to comment on, be surprised by, speculate about, moan about, or, perhaps most importantly, agree about. Which brings us to another important rule of English weather-speak: always agree. This rule was noted by the Hungarian humorist George Mikes, who wrote that in England ‘You must never contradict anybody when discussing the weather’.

What do you talk about with people you don't know very well - or even people you do know somewhat? When the sun shines 200+ days a year, weather can only carry that much of the conversation.

So one function of the sports discussion is similar to "Nice day, isn't it?"

A more interesting reason is that because Americans are a strange concoction of people from just about everywhere, one can be rather certain that they come "to the party" with different world views. Discussing sports can be a low-risk subject where discussing anything tasting remotely of politics might lead to unpleasant disagreements.

Almost all high schools and universities have their own football team - not soccer team, "real men" play football - along with marching bands, color guards (the marchers who throw flags and rifles at each other in intricate patterns), and cheer leaders (the dancers who throw each other around).

So teams and their fan base also serve as artificial tribes among people who would otherwise have no tribal relationships whatsoever.

Sports tribes and football games are much preferable to alternative outlets of tribal warfare - like city gangs.

To be a member of the tribe, the correct answer to the above quoted question is "Yes, wasn't it exiting?" or something appropriate if the game was a total bore.

If you don't know much about American football, basketball, or base ball, either start reading up on the rules and go to the games - or don't expect to be included in much of the discussion.