Athletic Apologism

March 27, 2010

So I’ve had the NCAA basketball games on to see just how hard I failed at filling out my bracket at work. Yes, I failed hard, but given how this year’s tournament has gone, so has everyone else.

During the ads, they occasionally play some NCAA ads showing the athletes also doing math or working in a lab or dressed all business-like in an office, saying (promising?) that NCAA athletes will end up going pro in something other than sports.

Alright, I know “smart” people (if I count as that is certainly arguable) shouldn’t say things like what I’m about to say, but I’ve seen little real reason otherwise.

Being a professional athlete is still a legitimate career. Just as much as any teacher, scientist, office manager, etc. Therefore, I find it absurd the NCAA has to practically apologize for showing college students, who are apparently supposed to be training themselves to be the next great intellectual leaders, out playing with a big orange ball instead of doing math problems. That playing basketball or whatever other sport isn’t “intelligent” but just a waste of time (that we make ill-fated bets on). Which, of course, is all kinds of bullshit.

It probably comes from the widely held belief that intelligence exists only in the form of knowledge you get from books, whether classical literature, math, science, history, or whatever else. In fact, it’s probably the belief that causes parents and teachers to not allow children to play in favor of giving them more to study, believing only through studying do they actually learn anything while playing is merely wasting time. Yet, as we youth rights people know, the exact opposite is true!

Thing is, all sports involve a great deal of math and physics. This tends to often get brought up by obnoxious adults trying to convince kids to study instead of wanting to go out and play ball, but if anything, those bossy adults are missing the point. The math and physics homework merely involves the equations and written problems themselves, the theory behind the phenomena. The sports are the practical! The player may or may not know all the nitty gritty equations or formulas, but he’s the one who must assess how hard and far and long he must throw the ball to get it exactly where it must go, and often come up with this within a few seconds. To be very good at it, he must have amazing concentration and coordination, be a very quick thinker, and have precise control over the strength and force of his arm for his throw. We may still think of it as just a game, as the player may as well, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still involve a significant amount of brain power.

Brain power, of course, being what intelligence actually is. People always mix up intelligence with knowledge. Knowledge is merely possessing information. Intelligence is the capacity to process it. That’s why their opposites, stupidity and ignorance, are not the same thing. Ignorance is a lack of information, but doesn’t say anything about whether someone can process information. Stupidity is the reduced ability to process information. Also, intelligence isn’t a linear thing, as people can be great at mentally processing certain kinds of information but not so great at others. A basketball player and a corporate executive may work with very different kinds of information, but the idea is they can still process it and are both still intelligent. Why the disparity in our perception of their respective validity then?

Maybe sports are considered frivolous while more “intellectual” careers are seen as more useful? Perhaps. Then again, the desire to claim that your alma mater or the city you sort of live near is better than someone else’s alma mater or city they live near is strong, so people are still buying the tickets and merchandise, still watching the games and showing the supporting advertising to be reaching a significant audience. It’s still yet another business, yet another entertainment venue, and it’s bringing in the money and thus contributing to the economy and employing a lot of people. Don’t know about you, but I still call that a use.

2 thoughts on “Athletic Apologism”

  1. I think that part of the reasoning behind those commercials is an attempt to make the athletes look smart not because getting a career in pro sports isn’t considered legitimate, but because schools have come under fire for lowering the educational bar for their student athletes, many of whom will not actually be going pro after they graduate. If they do get a degree, it should be for academic merit like the rest of us, which is a concept that OSU, at least, has had issue grasping in the past. Rather than actually making their athletes smarter, the NCAA is trying to make them look smarter and hoping people will forget there was an issue in the first place.

    Also, it could be that some of the athletes are actually smart. Krenzel was our quarterback, and he got a degree in molecular genetics.

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