Monday, June 19, 2006

Sports and Society

I remember seeing awhile ago an article or essay or something comparing different sports with different types of societies. So baseball is more agrarian, with a leisurely pace not governed by a clock but by events (pitches, outs, innings). It's analogous to the seasons. And the players each have a (more or less equal) part in the production of runs and a role on the other side more like pre- or early-industrial farmer hands than, say, factory workers.

North American football (don't ever just call it American football), though, is factory work. Each player has a job to perform. Those on offense work directly under the quarterback, their supervisor, who answers to those higher up. Creativity for most of the players is unnecessary. The key is following your route or performing your task and relying on the system for it all to fall together. And the clock itself is so important to the game that everyone is constantly aware of the minutes going by. Now a good team does more than just that, but at least the metaphor holds up in a general way.

Basketball, in the essay, was compared to a more contemporary corporate setting. The players have their roles, but creativity is highly valued. The clock again is important, but in more of a frantic, deadline-meeting, business way than the work-hours feel in football. The coach is not so much a factory boss, but a consultant trying to balance the different skills and massage the different egos of the group. Again, this is not meant to be a perfect metaphor--the Pistons have built their reputation among local fans in recent years as a more blue-collar, factory team, whether they really fit that or not anymore after this year--but it's an interesting way of looking at it.

I'm sure the original essay said all this in much better, more systematic way, but this was the basic gist.

So anyway, this got me wondering how soccer would fit into this scheme. Soccer has some set plays, but even fewer the basketball. It's much more freewheeling and creative. The clock is there, but it's much less of a presence (and not even completely reliable because of injury time). In some ways these things put it in a similar position to basketball (at least more so than the other two sports), but certainly not identical. As a fan (and a creative writer) I want to say that it's more of an art, but art made be eleven people collaborating...I don't know. Maybe in the broader sense of the arts, it's analogous to a staged dramatic production or a musical. Perhaps a jazz performance. Yeah, I like that metaphor. Soccer as jazz. Creative. Improvisational. But I don't know that that really lines up with the society metaphors for the other sports. Hmmm. All I know is, I enjoy all four of these sports, but soccer/football is by far my favorite, both to play and to watch.

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