As I made the daily walk around my neighborhood the past two weekends I noticed lots of folks were playing host to football game TV watching parties.
Alabama and Auburn have had big games and, as the saying goes, Saturday down South is all about football. And, to be quite honest, tailgating before a game or just hanging out with friends to watch a game is (or can be) a truly enjoyable social occasion, win or lose.
Back when I used to regularly attend sporting events, I loved to commiserate with folks sitting around me, most of whom were strangers. The game ended and we went our separate ways. But for a few hours, we were co-participants in a sporting spectacle. As often or not, the social aspect of the game and the spirit of competition was what made the experience spectacular, not all the video Jumbotron stuff.
Watching and Reading
During the 80s and the first few years of the 90s I was a HUGE fan of college football. If I wasn't at a Crimson Tide game I was watching it on Saturday, usually with friends. If not with friends, I watched with family. Before and after the game I was monitoring all the sports talk radio. Sundays included hours of reading news coverage of the previous day's games. In those days, I started every morning with coffee and a newspaper, so I also spent a half-hour or more each day reading sports news.
During those years, I was also a regular runner and by 1989 I had a full-time, relatively demanding career as a business lawyer. My Monday through Friday schedule was packed with work to minimize the need to work on the weekends. At some point, I began to think about writing more and pursuing new hobbies but just could not find the time.
One Sunday afternoon around 1994-95, surrounded by piles of newspapers and the TV on in the background, I realized that I had given up a big chunk of my life reading and watching other people play sports.
Rather than living my life and pursuing my dreams, I was watching other people pursue their own.
And so, with that epiphany, I stopped reading sports news or watching sports news on TV. I didn't stop watching sports on TV at that time, but I stopped reading about sports.
I suspect that my choice to stop reading about sports has salvaged over 10,000 hours of time over the past 20 years, assuming I was spending about 7 hours a week keeping up with sports news. Even if I was multitasking some of the time, that's still a lot of sports news media consumption.
10,000 hours is enough time to become an expert in something, or so I've been told.
I stopped watching sports on TV in 2008. The only time I watch sports on TV now is if I go a viewing party (rare) or if I make an exception for something special, like some Olympic events. So I've probably added months, maybe years, of time to my life by giving most sports viewing.
I realize that I am an anomaly.
I'm not opposed to watching sports or even consuming sports media. But I do think that sports consumption can lead someone down a path he or she never intended. One day the person wakes up and years of life have passed by. Time is the one resource or asset we can never recover.
Sports consumption is a huge industry.
This industry I'm talking about isn't about playing sports, professionally or recreationally. I put that sports industry in a different category.
I'm just thinking and writing here about the sports industry that uses marketing and persuasion to get us to attend sports events and develop team loyalties, that uses pro athletes to endorse products, that employs thousands of writers, pundits and media content creators to produce stories about these teams and athletes and dramatize the competition.
Every college and university has established or is in the midst of launching some type of sports marketing, sports communication and/or sports media program. These are hugely popular with students, who dream of being hosts on ESPN sports talk shows or spending their days dreaming up ways to get fans in seats.
I see several potentially harmful consequences of all the emphasis on sports consumption.
1. If you are watching other people play sports you are probably sitting, sometimes standing, but mostly sitting. You are probably eating at some point. Sitting and eating too much typically lead to bad outcomes. Exhibit A: American's obesity problem.
2. Although sports marketing and media production are hot career paths right now, I suspect the universities are turning out way more graduates for this industry than it can absorb. On the plus side, good communication skills are transferable across industries. But video editing is something that can be easily outsourced, and video camera operators can be (and are being) replaced by robotics and technology like the GoPro. And the hosts of the big shows: These spots are usually reserved for the former pro athletes, the retired coaches. It's rare for a sports journalist to rise through the ranks to a coveted anchor slot with first-class travel, a cushy dressing room, and assistants to do all the actual hard work that takes place 24/7 in the world of sports media.
3. Related to, but distinct from, #1 above: Time spent watching other people do things (whether its sports, “reality” tv or movies) is usually time that you aren't doing something to improve your own life. I'm not suggesting that we/you/I should never watch TV, never go to a movie or play, or never attend a sporting event. In fact, we can learn from watching other people do things. But moderation is the key.
And it seems that more than a few people have moved from the occasional spectator to the all-in, all-consumption sports-obsessed fanatic. There is a difference between being a fan and being a fanatic, even though fan is simply a truncation of the word fanatic.
So anyway, those are just some musings that passed through my head as I walked through my neighborhood. And when I sat down last night to peruse my social media streams and found them filled with tweets and status updates from friends and relatives ranting about a bad call or venting frustrations (to put it mildly), I closed the screen to my laptop and picked up a book.
Well, a Kindle with a screen to be precise, but I spent a few hours reading. Still somewhat passive but when I closed the flap on the Kindle cover and turned off the light I didn't feel as if I'd thrown away a piece of my life.