Cultivated Disinterest in Professional Sports

Like many of my friends, I have treated professional sports with cultivated indifference. But a year and a half ago, I decided to become a football fan.

Several years ago, I was at a talk by Michael Albert at MIT where he chastised American intellectuals for what he claimed was cultivated disdain of professional sports. Albert suggested that sports reflect the go-to topic for small talk and building rapport across class and context. But he suggested that almost everybody who used the term "working class struggle" was incapable of making small talk with members of the working class because — unlike most working class people (and most people in general) — educated people systematically cultivate ignorance in sports.

Professional sports are deeply popular. In the US, Sunday Night Football is now the most popular television show among women in its time slot and the third most popular television in America among 18-49 year old women. That it is also the most popular television show in general is old news. There are very few things that anywhere near half of Americans have in common. Interest in football is one of them. An enormous proportion of the US population watches the Superbowl each year.

I recognized myself in Albert’s critique. So I decided to follow a local team. I picked football because it is the most popular sport in America and because their strong revenue sharing system means that either team has a chance to win any given match. My local team is the New England Patriots and I’ve watched many of the team’s games or highlights over the last season and a half. I’ve also followed a couple football blogs.

A year and half in, I can call myself a football fan. And I’ve learned a few things in the process:

  1. With a little effort, getting into sports is easy. Although learning the rules of a sport can be complicated, sports are popular because people, in general, find them fun to watch. If you watch a few games with someone who can explain the rules, and if you begin to cheer for a team, you will find yourself getting emotionally invested and excited.
  2. Sports really do, as Albert implied, allow one to build rapport and small talk across society. I used to dread the local cab driver who would try to make small talk by mentioning Tom Brady or the Red Sox. No more! Some of these conversations turn into broader conversations about life and politics.
  3. Interest in sports can expand or shrink to fill the time you’re willing to give it. It can mean just glancing through the sports sections of the paper and watching some highlights here or there. Or it can turn into a lifestyle.
  4. It’s not all great. Football, like most professional sports, is deeply permeated with advertisements, commercialism, and money. Like other sports, it is also violent. I don’t think I could ever get behind a fight sport where the goal is to hurt someone else. The machoness and absence of women in the highest levels of most professional sports bothers me deeply.

I’ve also tried to think a lot about why I, like most of my friends, avoided sports in the past. Disinterest in sports among academics and the highly educated is, in my experience, far from passive. I’ve heard people almost compete to explain the depth of their ignorance in sports — one doesn’t even know the rules, one doesn’t own a television, one doesn’t know the first thing about the game. I did the same thing myself.

Bethany Bryson, a sociologist at JMU has shown that increased education is associated with increased inclusiveness in musical taste (i.e., highly educated people like more types of music) but that these people are most likely to reject music that is highly favored by the least educated people. Her paper’s title sums up the attitude: "Anything But Heavy Metal". For highly educated folks, it’s a sign of cultivation to be eclectic in one’s tastes. But to signal to others that you belong in the intellectual elite, it can pay in cultural capital to dislike things, like sports, that are enormously popular among the least educated parts of society.

This ignorance among highly educated people limits our ability to communicate, bond, and build relationships across different segments of society. It limits our ability to engage in conversations and build a common culture that crosses our highly stratified and segmented societies. Sports are not politically or culturally unproblematic. But they provide an easy — and enjoyable — way to build common ground with our neighbors and fellow citizens that transcend social boundaries.

Published by

Benjamin Mako Hill

Rebel with rather too many causes. And your host!

82 thoughts on “Cultivated Disinterest in Professional Sports”

  1. It’s been pretty frustrating for me, as someone who was raised playing and watching a number of different sports, to have next to no friends who share my enthusiasm.  The best part of sports fandom is the social aspect, and my own interest has flagged in isolation.

    (Last month, though, a whole bunch of people humored me by going to a sports bar to watch game 5 of the American League Division Series.  They were mostly in it for the beer.)

    Also, if you’re going to root for an NFL team, it should be the Green Bay Packers.

  2. It’s not just class that cultivates disinterest. I’m just a working class oaf that pretends to be educated (and most people can see through my reaching). I follow FA football, support Newcastle United and feel their painful loosing streak; I cheer for England, in football, cricket and rugby.

    But I live here in Boston and I avoid American football and baseball. Related probably to my resistance to American cultural in general. Or maybe it’s that I didn’t grow up with the games and already have a full set of spots to follow that I know how to play.

  3. Growing up in american society, from the playground to the school room, there has always been cliques: burnouts, jocks, geek and nerds, chess club, glee club, etc. Popularity did not come from being academic, a chess player or similar. Being athletic lead to popularity and bullying of those who were not. This lead to a certain resentment for these people and their culture that lead to an avoidance of much of the following and playing of sports. I assume this followed the geek, nerds and academics as they ascended life’s stations. With the notable exception of the Super Bowl, world series and a noting of your hometown teams, most didn’t follow much of sports. If you find enjoyment with people who don’t involve themselves with sports, then it would take a concerted effort to do so that most wouldn’t see as typically useful. That it might facilitate communication with non-academic folks seems a useful skill to do ‘field work’ among non-academics :) I learned the basics of US and UK  football and baseball and I enjoy watching them with people on occasion but never was able to follow much of the year-long play and stats that are crucial to be a fan. I have relative who found enjoyment in the gambling associated with sport and that was also a turn-off during my youth. It can be fun to play sports among friend vs watching a tv broadcast. And going to a venue is more enjoyable them a tv broadcast. Not being a sport fan can also be a vehicle for a sports fan to provide a means of cultural exchange.

  4. hmm American Football is a war / hunting game. Many people are war-oriented, and it might not be too much of a stretch to say that most meat eaters must have bloodlust in there somewhere. A pigskin is fought over.. Good for you to have a good time with an admittedly well-produced experience, but, lets not gloss over what is really going on..

    To make war less of a word and more of a feeling, agony, permanent loss and permanent injury are the fodder for the war experience.. I can think of many excellent reasons to evolve away from war, and its placeholders

  5. Brian: I’m not sure what to tell. I don’t think football is a war game. There are many professional sports where the point is, actually, to hurt each other or to beat the others one in submission. Football is not one of them. But you’re welcome to you opinion.

  6. I remain unconvinced.

    For me the revulsion of large organized events, even ones as insanely popular as professional sports, has nothing to do with its actual popularity or refined tastes or even the crass commercialism.  Instead, it is the more tribal, even religious, tenor involved at all levels.  Do note, though, that I am from Texas, where both fans and critics alike will describe the sport of football as the most popular religion of the state.  Expressions of the popularity may differ around the world depending on location and which sport, but so far my observations are that they are merely variations on a theme and not significantly different.

    Which team is supported is usually more closely associated with ones geography.  The inculcation is done so early and so completely that sense of self can be strongly tied to team performance such that loss or victory can elicit very strong emotional reactions affecting others surrounding the fan.  As you mention, most of the ore popular sports are highly sexist in attitude with men as the players and stars whereas women, if existant in the sport at all, are relegated to side-line and booster roles.  One fan speaking ill of another fan’s favorite team is taken as a serious personal affront.

    My distaste for the attitudes around it says nothing about the actual sport; I actually really enjoy participating in almost any sport, and recognize and admire the physical and mental characteristics required for one to excel at them.  It really is just the tribal aspects of the sport as demonstrated in popular culture.  Creating such a strong us versus them attitude seems to be more of a fan behavior than something actually pushed by the teams themselves who do seem to exhibit respectful attitudes towards the other team when the game is complete.

    Those us versus them attitudes also bleed over into other areas as kevinx was mentioning. I see those as particularly damaging in how academics are given such a low priority compared with the sports for a large subset of many populations (particularly here in Texas).  In the local interactions, it would be great if the differences in experience were truly an opportunity at cultural exchange, but a more common situation appears to be shaming at rooting for the wrong team (or no team at all).

    Back to your post: I’m actually truly glad to hear you’ve found something you enjoy!  None of my comments necessarily speak to anything about you personally since I have not interacted with you regarding sports or other topics.  These are comments and observations about tendencies of large groups in particular, but can be observed in the smaller groups as well.  The taste in music that you mention is one such way where there is an apparent attempt to shame those that would deem themselves peers and I also have the same complaints about that form of out-group shaming.

    My query to you is that I wonder exactly how common the ground really is.  I see you have definitely assimilated into some of your local popular culture.  To this online crowd you admit to some caveats in the areas of commercialism, violence, and sexism among others.  Are you free to discuss all those same complaints among the fans you now share a past-time with without recourse?  Is the sharing of the popular activity truly building common ground or merely making you more accepted in their community?

  7. Philip: Thanks for very long and thoughtful comment! You’ve said a lot and I respond to your post in a few pieces.

    My broad response is to suggest that I think it’s important to not judge sports — or anything else — by the behavior of its most rabid enthusiasts. I think my level of interest is similar to most fans: if there’s time and I’m not doing anything else, I might watch the local team’s game. I’ll probably glance through the sports pages to see roughly what’s going on. But it’s never personal and it’s not a huge part of my life. Maybe if I were from Texas, I would feel differently. I can’t speak to that.

    One of my more memorable interactions was in NYC in a store where two people stocking the shelves were talking about New York football. They ribbed me a little bit for being from Boston but the fact that I knew a few things created space for rapport and a friendly exchange that otherwise would have just been awkward.

    And I really do think there is an element of classism to this. NASCAR has less in the way of tribalism, less in the way of violence, and (possibly?) less in the way of sexism. But it is strongly associated with poor America and is rejected and disdained by the highly educated Americans I know more than any other sport. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

    The fact that there are real problems at the heart of sports makes unpacking the different reasons why one might be critical of a practice hard. But I think my preference is to err on the side of more common ground among neighbors and citizens.

  8. Football is lame because of insane number of time outs. It is like watching the game in the middle of an advertisement show. Try soccer or better rugby

  9. I’m not convinced

    While it might have something to find something you can talk about with everybody and their taxi driver, there are other options, such as the weather, pets, or the latest advancement in theoretical particle physics.

    Professional sports is not worth one second of the only life one has. Nothing against physical activities one does for fun or health, but sports is the opposite. Most team sports are sexist, having either men or women in their teams, but never men and women together. And, as George Orwell put it:

    “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

    (Worth a read: “The Sporting Spirit”, 1945)

    1. I cringe to even be this rude, but you sure are the definition of aspergers. Being so disconnected from social norms that you don’t even notice it’s strange to say that professional sports should include woman and men on the same team or it’s sexist. That is an extreme example of being quantitative and completely ignoring qualitative social evidence. You’re also completely missing the point of sports, which is competition.

      1. If you start your comment by “cringe[ing] even to be this rude” and then go on to use a mental illness as a slur, you might want to rethink what you are writing. Better to “miss the point” of sport than to miss the point of respectful discourse.

  10. Chess is a sport, it is non-violent, however you can “beat” your opponent in it. It might some day be included in the Olympic games.

    And there is also card game – bridge.

  11. Years ago my friends in high school pointed out that sports is a great way for us to stay in touch for this very reason.  It’s something that we can hold somewhat in common no matter where our lives take us.

    I’ve found that often I don’t watch the games fully through, at least not actively, but I stay in close enough touch every week to know the overall narratives.  (Yahoo’s Pickem offers a pretty simple way to accomplish this; it is a very watered down version of fantasy football.  You just pick which teams will win, which means you have some minor stake in every game without having to do any research.)

    Anyway, thanks for writing this.  I buy into the argument.  Now lets just try to get e-sport universally popular!

  12. I belong in the “not interested in sport” class of people. I grew up in Tallahassee where college football is huge.
    For me it is mostly cultural. I don’t really dislike football. I dislike football culture, and the culture behind most popular professional sports. People just take it too seriously, and all of the ridiculousness that stems from how people take it is a big turn off for me.
    The deal people make over their team, and against another team is completely alien to me. I cannot relate and am unable to participate in it.
    I number of years ago I was getting into Frisbie, which has the a culture of the right kind of attitude. Competing teams are respectful to each other in the highest order. Players go out of their way to make sure the right calls are made (admitting that they did in fact step out of bounds) and great care is taken to ensure the safety of each other.
    The culture also encourages participation of being a spectator, and everyone encourages new players and gives them advice across team borders.
    This is how sports should be, in my opinion, and the fact that the football, basketball, etc. culture finds these attitude offensive is why I stay disengaged.

  13. Thanks for writing this.

    I grew up playing sports (recreationally, not especially well). I enjoy watching them. It’s not something I bring up often. It’s not something I have in common with most of my peers.

    It seems that it needs to be said that enjoying professional sports does not make me a worse geek or an unsophisticated person.

    Consider how geeks react if the same vicious, reflexive, snobby snark is applied to Doctor Who, or Trekkie fandom, or any of the other common geekdoms with about the same redeeming value as NFL football. Why is the same attitude not only okay, but a signifier of sophistication, when applied to sports?

  14. I definitely agree with Karen that there’s often a double standard when it comes up in geek circles.

    I’ve also found more problems with being ridiculed for liking sports with American geeks compared to when hanging out with some of my European geek friends, although the sports are often different. I know Ubuntu UK even had a meet-up where they went to a pub to watch a rugby match either earlier this year or last year. I actually talk American football more with an English friend than I do with more local friends. I became a fan of rugby through some of my European geek friends a few years ago. I also know plenty of European geeks who are fairly open and loud about who they support in football. Some of the anti-sport attitude in American geeks may have to do with some of the extremes of American sports fan, but there are plenty of sports fans in Europe or other places outside the US that are as extreme or more than American fans. I do think the rejection that many geeks (including myself) faced in school from student athletes probably plays a larger role. Yes, there are many issues with inequality, pay, racism, homophobia, etc. in most professional sports everywhere, but I’ve seen things get better within my lifetime and I find that I’m happier being in there trying to support an encourage the change rather than assuming that it won’t change. I also have found some of the same issues in geek circles (and sometimes with less obvious improvement) so I don’t think it’s a reason for geeks to reject all sports.

    I was never particularly athletic due to my physical impairments, although there are some sports I’ve enjoyed playing. I was never the “jock” and didn’t hang out with the athletic kids, but I do actually love watching sports. In some ways the sports I watched ended up being more of a distancer even with the athletic kids when I was growing up because I grew up in an area where football (soccer) and basketball were popular and those are two sports I’ve never been able to get into.

    I think one thing I’ve seen in my family is how it’s bridged gaps of distance. My father grew up near San Francisco and while the entire family is now on the east coast, he and his brothers are 49ers fans for American football and SF Giants for baseball. I grew up a 49ers fan for American football, although I ended up being a bigger Red Sox fan for baseball just due to growing up in New England.

    Like you, I’ve seen a lot more positive things come out of being a sports fan than I have negative. I’ve met interesting people. The last professional baseball game I went to I ended up sitting next to some firefighters from the other side of the country. They have been slowly working their way around trying to visit all the baseball parks in the US. They didn’t care about who won or lost the game, they just were there to enjoy it and have fun. Also, as someone who has limited mobility and huge problems with fatigue it’s wonderful to be able to just stick on a sports game to watch when I have no energy to think or concentrate. While I have the teams I follow, I’ll watch most American football and baseball games and I’m watching more of other sports these days as well. When I recently spent 3 weeks in hospitals, I wouldn’t have been able to think enough for any intellectual conversations or real thought, but I was able to just stick on ESPN as something to occupy what little bit of brain power I had. Even sports I don’t necessarily enjoy can be interesting at times and, again, checking them out exposes me to more different people and I really don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    I actually find the blanket anti-sports feelings to be more alienating that welcoming. I don’t think anyone has to be a sports fan, but I don’t think there’s any inherent reason why sports fans should be rejected just for being sports fans. If the behaviour is inappropriate, that’s another story, but that’s definitely not limited to sports fans.

  15. You don’t think your avoidance of sports in the past had a little more to do with family dynamics? Of course, not entirely but, I think we all (at least the brother side of the family) dialectically enabled our own niches through friction and love. “You chose books, Nate chose looks,” as Roald Dahl famously wrote in Matilda. :)

    But I can’t believe you would ever allow a New Yorker to ‘rib you’ for ‘being from Boston.’ Have you forgotten your NW roots brother?! Even though I may be living in a country where I’m morely likely to be talking about Swedish chefs than American footballers I still know which ‘local’ football team I tune into if I have the opportunity – the Seahawks!

  16. Brother Kit!

    I think those dynamics played a role. But I still there was maybe some classism on my side of those dynamics.

    Although I also check up on the Seahawks… And how do I put this… Being a Seattle sports fan can be a little bit depressing.

    Direct your ire at Sister Lisa. She is a huge Patriots fan, despite never living in New England! She flew out to Boston to see a playoff game last year! I’m not just jealous!

  17. You don’t think your avoidance of sports in the past had a little more to do with family dynamics? Of course, not entirely but, I think we all (at least the brother side of the family) dialectically enabled our own niches through friction and love. “You chose books, Nate chose looks,” as Roald Dahl famously wrote in Matilda. :)

    But I can’t believe you would ever allow a New Yorker to ‘rib you’ for ‘being from Boston.’ Have you forgotten your NW roots brother?! Even though I may be living in a country where I’m morely likely to be talking about Swedish chefs than American footballers I still know which ‘local’ football team I tune into if I have the opportunity – the Seahawks!

  18. Oh I felt that classism brotha’, that’s why I trained so hard. To protect myself from your ferocious older-brother privilege, “The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious than the revenges of poverty and oppression. For the one aims at perpetuating resented injustice, the other is merely a momentary passion soon appeased.” (C.L. R.James, The Black Jacobins, 89)

    I thought the red socks were a bigger deal than the Patriots? (and of all sports to choose to learn, other than rugby, American football is not the easiest sport to have picked! It took me a season of playing inside linebacker to realized what the hell was going on. I played because I knew I’d be type-cast in theater rolls as a ‘jock’ but I would not recommend this sort of ‘getting into character’ experience to anybody. Two minor concussions later I went back to musical theater)

  19. Hmm, I’m not into sports, but I do like very much (and perform, for that matter) a lot of music, many different kinds. Thus I’m to be an educated person. But then, my favorites include a lot of heavy metal. What now? ;-)

  20. To like something that requires such a large investment only for the sake of rapport strikes me as stilted and mechanical. Why not do what you love naturally and let your enthusiasm vitalize the people around you?

    I don’t watch sports because they are militaristic and territorial. They are celebrity play-fight versions of so much of the world’s ills.

    There is absolutely no net mental gain outside of bonding, as you say, and I can find a thousand other more meaningful things to connect with people.

    As a man, I’ve worked against my tendencies towards happenstance allegiance. Empathizing with foreign ideas and people is not something we’re wired for as a default, but it’s so vital for the sake of the world. I want my habits, across the board, to reflect inclusion and understanding, not division.

  21. Benjamin,
    I think you have one thing wrong: football is a *full contact sport*, and as such it does absolutely include the objective of physically hurting the opponent.

    1. Last I checked, the object of the game to is to move a ball down the field and to keep the other team from doing so. In boxing or MMA, the object of the sport is actually to hurt the other person. I see your point and I don’t think it’s incorrect. I’m also not trying to defend football here. As I said in my article, I have big problems with it. That said, I really do think there is a real difference and that the difference is pretty clear.

  22. Wow. Just wow.

    Ben, I agree with you… There’s definitely a cultivated disinterest that produces a gap between the highly educated and, well, the rest of us.

    I had a very wise boss at one point in my life who corrected this behavior in me, simply by saying the following:

    “Jimmy, you’ll never get ahead in life if you can’t talk sports at the water cooler. People in business at the highest levels all understand this, and most choose to follow some sport. It shows you’re part of the club.”

    This advice has served me well, and while I am definitely disinterested, I’d much rather be able to talk with the folks around me than come across as having separated myself. It’s perceived as arrogance. So, I force myself to at least have a conversational knowledge of whats going on, and it hasn’t harmed me in any way.

    Reading through some of the rebuttals here, the hubris and, yes, arrogance, are on full display. Come down from your high horse, vacate that ivory tower. You’ll find that people aren’t nearly as dumb as you may think they are. You might even learn to relax and enjoy yourself.

    1. Feigning an interest in something so I can talk about it at the water cooler is not a worthy goal in life. Perhaps instead of focusing only on how many business contracts you can land, you can be true to yourself and live your life in a positive way that brings people to you, under no pretenses, with a deep honesty that can provide real fulfillment. I’m one of those people who is actively disinterested in professional sports due to sports culture and religious fervor, and I’m doing exceedingly well in life. Sure, if I pretended to care about sports, I could make conversation with someone like you — but I’m fine passing on that opportunity.

  23. When they start giving CCs of steroids injected along with all the other relevant stats on each player I will start caring about pro sports again.

  24. Not sure why the lack of women in football bothers you. Are you one of those who deny that there is a difference between men and women? There are no women in the nfl for the simple fact that women cannot attain the size and strength required to safely and effectively compete. Women’s bodies are different and they have different hormones that make this so. I have a lot of smart friends and family members who become quite stupid as soon as the topic of gender comes up. The nfl doesn’t actively exclude women from playing professional football, biology does.

  25. Sports are simply very boring. I might watch the highlights of the series final. Soccer “best of” clips of Wayne Rooney, Pele, Messi, Maradona, etc, and other greats are entertaining, but how many hours of real games do I have to sit through to catch those few entertaining minutes?

  26. I love this post and just wanted to add that, I would argue, the people who would avoid things based on it “being below them” and not wanting to look bad are likely the ones who aren’t truly intellectual. If you’re truly an intellectual you can see that enjoying your life is all that matters and depriving yourself to try to impress your peers (barring some job complications or something) is just making you look stupid.

    I’m not saying that everyone should like anything. I’m simply saying that, if you’ve never tried it, and you find that it hinders you socially (from your perspective) in some way, yet you still refuse because people may look down on you, you need to re-evaluate your priorities.

  27. I have better things to do than watch other people do things, particularly when those things are loaded with commercialism and are built on extracting money out of cities. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with commercialism, but I’m not shopping for trucks, Viagra, devices to stop me snoring, or most of the other products I see advertised during sports broadcasts.

    This isn’t to say that there’s something wrong with people who find value in watching sports, but there isn’t sufficient value in it for me. Even when it comes to activities that I personally enjoy, I can only bring myself to watch a highlight reel.

    Oh, and by the way, I avoid mainstream pop music because it’s truly awful these days. Inane, repetitive, formulaic, and level-equalized. There are objective reasons to dislike popular music these days, and it has nothing to do with putting on airs.

  28. What did you sacrifice to follow sports? I am presuming that you did not have hours of your day during which you simply sat around staring at a wall, so you had to have cut something out of your life both in terms of activity and in terms of mental expenditure of energy. I have nothing against sports (except youth football which actively encourages mob mentality amongst players, amplifying one of the worst aspects of human nature), I simply don’t want to sacrifice anything else to follow them. Did you consciously choose what to abandon?

    1. I didn’t cut out anything intentionally or specifically. Watching a game competes with other weekend activities like other social activities. For the most part, it’s just competing for the random time I spend tooling around on the Internet.

  29. I see TV Sports as addictive narratives, that take you through a roller-coaster of emotions detached from your reality — like recreational drugs, or soap operas.

    Certainly I’ve tried all these things, but some are better than others. I can see Shakespeare as a really good soap opera. But now that I’ve tried crystal meth, should I keep popping a needle in my arm to bond with junkies?

    To make the world a better place, you don’t adopt the worst parts of its culture. Better to sing the song of angels among the masses. Be a beacon.

    If a cabby opens a conversation about Tom Brady’s game, ask how it makes him feel, personally. Connect with the man, not the sport. Then once you’ve bonded, he’ll naturally ask what gets you going, and now you can talk to him about how Bitcoin brings freedom to society.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! That said, I think that football in the US (and soccer in the world) is different than meth or soap operas (and similar to religion, for example) precisely because it is something that most people have in common. It’s part of our culture. It’s like language.

      Language is an interesting, if extreme, point of comparison. Feminists over the last century have shown that there are deep injustices reflected in and enforced by the languages we use to communicate. Speaking in a different language, which some have tried to do, is deeply isolating and limits ones effectiveness.

      In this sense, being a beacon can often mean creating your little hippy commune in the woods and, in that process, becoming irrelevant. There are deep trade-offs here on either side.

  30. I have much more disinterest to cultivate and pollsters to deprecate. If I want to follow sports, I suppose I’d arrange for the team to make a transferable product for its audience and less explicitly hideous artifacts.

  31. I don’t know why people would assume that disinterest in sports has to be “cultivated”. There is more than one reason why one might not enjoy them.

    I’ve tried to like sports many times, because I thought they could be conversation starters, but I couldn’t get into them. I’ve sat through games with people who explained the rules to me, and I still don’t have any emotional reaction to the games. Screaming audiences are too much overload, so I wouldn’t enjoy being in a stadium. If there is a game on at a bar, I often have to leave because of the noise. If people are sitting on a couch and suddenly jump up and start yelling, it causes anxiety. (sensory problems)

    I would like to enjoy sports, but I don’t.

    Most of the programmers I know like sports. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like sports.

  32. I’m right now watching the Women’s final of The Australian Open and it’s fantastic and a sport with absolutely amazing elite men and women athletes. Unfortunately, there’s still commercialism around the place.

  33. You all sound like a bunch of stuck up jerks. Maybe you’ll find it easier to relate to normal people when you stop talking like you’re so much better than everyone.

      1. I was more responding to the comments, but to me the overall tone of the article and comments is one of smug superiority and that really rubs people the wrong way.

  34. Our natural state (what we are born into) is a disinterest in watching sports (not cultivated). There is nothing inherently enjoyable about watching football, therefore our INTEREST is what is cultivated.

    I think the intellectual disinterest in sports has less to do with elitism, and more with intelligent people having similar taste. Do people not listen to heavy metal because “that’s what lower class people listen to” or because it is obnoxious? Do people not watch reality TV because “poor people watch that” or because it is stupid? And do people not watch sports because “uneducated people watch that” or simply because we find it boring ?

    1. Once we’ve moved past nipples, all of our interests are social and cultivated.

      What we think is obnoxious or beautiful or fascinating or boring is a matter of our particular social context and it follows clear patterns that have been clearly documented by sociologists.

      Here’s a great piece of sociology called “Anything but Heavy Metal.” Educated white people enjoy a wide variety of music but tend to stay away from music most popular with the poor white people they might be confused as being from (i.e., country western music and heavy metal):

      https://www.jstor.org/stable/2096459

  35. Educated people have no problem with sports (ahem, college football), it’s the smart people that are disinterested. You would find a much higher correlation between sports fan and low IQ than sports fan and low income (football is HUGE for middle class America, not to mention all the rich “stars” that are constantly shown in the audience).

    The thinking man gets bored if he is not being intellectually stimulated, hence why sports are an idiot’s entertainment.

    God, Guns, and Football! Yeehaw! ‘Murica!

    1. OK I admit I went a little too far with the “idiot” remark, I was just offended by your reasoning that the only reason I don’t like sports is “classism”.

    2. “The thinking man gets bored if he is not being intellectually stimulated, hence why sports are an idiot’s entertainment.”

      You clearly don’t care to understand the game. I sit around with my thinking friends and discuss the slide protection on the last play or how the cover two defense one team is playing is working out versus the caliber of team they’re playing against. There’s a LOT of nuance in gridiron football that you callously discard with your arrogant dismissal of football as “idiot’s entertainment”. I know a LOT of smart people that love the game of football. Nearly all of them share my enjoyment of its nuanced situational decision-making. For a “thinking man”, you sure are close-minded.

  36. I think some of the comments here reflect some of the intellectual classism that exists towards sports, as if only fools or those who don’t have anything better to do or think about like them…that’s an interesting attitude toward the 3+ billion people who do like sports. I won’t make any arm chair sociological comments about society and sports, except that sports fandom doesn’t preclude a critical attitude toward the edifice of much contemporary diets sports culture AND to remark, without further extension, on the tendency of those in intellectual class to choose European sports, perhaps because of a sense that European means ‘sophisticated’.

    1. Thanks Mick! I think it’s very interesting that among US intellectuals who otherwise don’t like sports, soccer, golf, tennis, or the olympics (sports that are either not popular among poor people or not popular in the United States) might be exceptions, and NASCAR almost never will.

  37. I view spectator sports as a form of mass mind control. It keeps large segments of the population spending a lot of time doing something that is safe and non-threatening to wealthy, powerful people in governments and corporations. If people had more free time on their hands, they might actually pay attention to the sleazy or even illegal things these people are doing to suck more money from our wallets and become even more wealthy and powerful.

  38. I’ve come to see TV, sports and movies as low brow, garbage entertainment for the most part and a complete waste of your precious life. We exist in this world a mere blink of an eye and what do most people waste a very large amount of that precious time doing? We already waste a third of it asleep. Another nearly third at school or work. And the remaining third, we sit on the couch while our bodies turn to mush and our mind is irreversibly polluted with whatever trash Hollywood decides to throw at us. We’re told what to think and how to act. The mindless millions are robots that can be programmed and told how to behave. If we didn’t have to mow the lawn and cook and clean and do laundry, what would people do with that spare time? Watching even more TV. People blast down the interstate at 10-20 over the speed limit so they can get home faster so they can do what? Sit in front of the idiot box and waste their life doing nothing worthwhile. In a hurry to do absolutely nothing.

    1. …and here you are on the Internet—conveniently excluded from your list of time-wasting technologies. Of course, you must be doing something much more valuable than reading this comment right now.

  39. since I have always been a sissy boy, I have never really liked sports, professional or otherwise, simply because I found them to be used to oppress people who did not conform nor belong to the cult of masculinity. if anything, sports enthusiasts used it “other” me rather than create any kind of rapport.

  40. Crossing the cultural divide by adopting a sport or two to follow works fine on discussion boards and can be pulled off some one-on-one small talk occasionally. But an academic in a group of rabid football fans? Nope. The divide works both ways. They know you are an egghead. Even if you can spout statistics and list great players from the past, they consider it nerd-knowledge. Because, ya know, the word “fan” is just a truncation.

  41. Interesting article. I believe I understand your motivation behind getting into football, for the sport itself and its use as a vehicle to those potential conversations/discussions in other topics it can lead to. Glad it worked for you in your experience.

    I myself (like others here) have tried the same, but still cannot get past the sport itself & the surrounding culture (and man, did I try). I suppose it just doesn’t resonate with me and as a result, I can’t attempt to use it in the way you describe to arrive at those potential discussions of interest. It seems like involving a “middleman” to have a worthwhile discussion in my opinion.

    If anything, the only thing I don’t like about pro sports is that social stigma that is generally applied to those who are not interested (you know its true). In my experience, its been received as “oh, you don’t have a team or like football?” is interpreted as odd, strange or that you must be geek/stuck up (nod to you there Paul) or that they can’t relate to “normal people”. I understand it, but still don’t understand how that came to be. If anything, I’m insulted by those who subscribe to that approach (we all know this happens), but I tolerate it as the cost of doing business with those types (one of these is not like the other).

  42. “Lets take sports. Thats another crucial example of the indoctrination system in my view. For one thing because it offers people something to pay attention to, that is of no importance. It keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea about doing something about. And infact its striking to see the intelligence used by ordinary people in sports. I mean you listen to radio stations and people call in. They have the most exotic information, understanding about all kinds of arcane issues. … I remember in highschool, i suddenly asked myself, why do I care if my team wins the football game? I mean, I dont know anybody on the team, nothing to do with me, i mean why am i cheering for my team?, it doesn’t make sense. But the point is it does make sense. Its a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority. And you know, group cohesion behind leadership elements. Infact its training in irrational jingoism. I think if you look closely at these things, they do have functions. That’s why money is spent supporting them, creating a base for them, advertising them and so on.”

    — Noam Chomsky — Manufacturing Consent

    1. Interesting fact: Michael Albert, who I mentioned in my post, is something of a protegé of Chomsky’s. Perhaps Albert is interested in speaking to community larger than the group of highly educated and mostly well-off leftists that Chomsky’s has been able to reach.

  43. The reason that sports like football “cut across” lines of class and race and function as a common denominator for small talk is because that is what white, heterosexual men are interested in and like to talk about–as in many other cultural contexts, the word “universal” masks quite a bit of identity politics. If there were an alternate universe where, say, football was of interest primarily to women (or gay men, or I’m African Americans) it would be a non-event, and no one would be expected to follow it or understand it to the degree that people are now. The fact that I have to brush up on a subject that doesn’t interest me to avoid embarrassment when the boys at the office start talking the secret language of sports doesn’t really seem like progress to me–just another way of marking me as different and demanding a certain amount of conformity on my part that isn’t expected of anyone else. At what point do I get to demand that everyone in the office start watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race and be fully conversant with it in the meeting room? Why do I have to pretend to be interested in the things you like, but the same is not expected of you? The power dynamics here are pretty clear to me, and I for one will not have a hand in perpetuating them.

    1. Random numbers I found on the Internet suggest that 64% of NFL viewers are male so it’s more popular with men than women but also extremely popular among women. I couldn’t find great numbers but it seems that NFL is overwhelming popular among black Americans as well. In my post I explained that Sunday Night Football is the single most popular television show among women in the US. Learning this was actually the reason I decided to start following football in the first place.

      I allude to the problems you suggest in your comment and I think they are real but but I simply think that cultivating disinteresting in one the few things that Americans really do have in common is not worth it. The reality that Ru Paul’s Drag Race is simply not popular enough to provide the sort of “shared culture” that the NFL can provide. If my ability to bond with others is based solely on Drag Race, I’m going to talking only to people who, like you perhaps, already share most of values.

  44. Actual intellectuals, and actual elites have very little trouble engaging their inferiors, social and intellectual, in small talk. Nobody who is actually an intellectual, or actually a leader of men dreads spending half hour alone with a cab driver, or a waitress.

    Fake elites and pretend intellectuals, the sort of crud churned out by American “universities” by the bucket and the pail, have this and all other problems of the faker : they’re not what they claim to be, but are expected to deliver nevertheless.

    In other news, do you know what the piece of duct tape serving as a door lock told the other piece of duct tape serving as a door lock ? “I’m getting into sniffing glue, be more like the wood. At least that‘s solid!”

      1. Yes, well, not everyone subscribes to the “everyone’s equal” nonsense just like not everyone subscribes to the “all planets weigh exactly the same” nonsense. Best get used to the idea.

        PS. Your problems relating to your inferiors may well come out of your … wilful, let’s say, failure to represent their status correctly. Just like a plumber may encounter trouble should he arbitrarily decide all jobs cost the same, all pipes go in the same fittings and all liquids are the same liquid.

        Neither in his case nor in your case is “talk to them about sports!!1″ much of a solution, although in both cases it may appear like “hey, at least you’re doing something”.

  45. I guess my experience is reverse to you. I grew up playing and loving all sports in Europe. I watched La Liga, Bundesliga, English Premiership and others like a fanatic.

    I did not understand when here in the USA, people seemed to avoid all sport – especially the people at university. And the people playing on the college sports teams were almost segregated.

    I finally grew a new understanding of sports in America however when my 8 year old son was sexually assaulted at a hockey rink by a “team mate”. “Hazing” was the explanation given. “Cute” was the description of the activity given by the “hockey moms” running the local teams, and “very widespread but not a crime due to the kids ages” according to the police – and finally not “sexual” according to the kids national hockey organization.

    This turned out to be sexual assaults and attempted rapes on young children which was finally witnessed by an adult coach who reported it. Absolutely nothing could be done. The pervert was free of all accusations and back playing hockey within a couple of days.

    “Hazing” is part of all sports culture in the USA – all the way through college and into professional leagues and it is by far the greatest reason to avoid all sport here. I assure you there is no longer any sport interest or promotion in my house.

    1. That sounds completely horrifying. I don’t know what to tell you except that I’m the oldest of six kids and we all played sports as kids and the experience of and/or promotion of sexual assault has never been a part of my sports experience either as a fan or as a participant.

      As terrible as your experience clearly was, I honestly don’t think that hazing is the reason that that the vast majority of intellectuals in the US avoid watching professional sports.

  46. You know, I tried your strategy with hockey a few years ago… I actually followed for two seasons, knew all the players, did the small talk thing, cheered and got myself worked up, etc… I had really convinced myself that I liked it. But by the time the third seaosn rolled around, I couldn’t do it. I hated it, and I hated the time it took, I hated the fact that I had to manufacture emotion, and even though I did it to promote this “social lingua-franca” with my friends, it just drove me mad having to force myself to talk about something I was genuinely disinterested in.

    This article is a few years old now… Do you you still find you love sports? I think there is measure of truth to what you say, in the sense that many people shun sport because it is somehow beneath their social class. And I do agree that some people can cultivate a genuine love for sports that they didn’t like before. I just feel forced to be someone I hate being if I’m going to hang our with my hockey loving friends.

    1. I’ve moved from Boston to Seattle and switched teams from the Patriots to the Seahawks. I do still follow the sports and I love it. I watched the superbowl yesterday in a local bar and was genuinely emotionally rocked by the devastating last-minute loss.

  47. Philip and maxolasersquad cover much of the issues I have with ‘professional sports’, especially football. I don’t like how most people behave when watching the games.

    I realize that “fan” is short for “fanatic”, but I prefer the sort of fanatic that promotes their obsession, as opposed to the one that calls down hate on all except their obsession — even if it’s claimed to be “just in fun”. Trash-talking is always unpleasant.

    Many years ago I was gives with a pair of tickets to a Rose Bowl, so I attended with my spouse. To be “in the spirit”, we wore the colors of one of the teams — and ended up sitting in the “wrong section” of the bleachers. We were continually insulted by _children_ (amusing, really, to have an eight-ish-year-old tell an adult that _he_ is going to kick your pathetic cowardly opposing-team-supporting ass, and then to have the guardian turn around and become /extremely/ pale — but also quite sad, because kids don’t learn that sort of thing on their own).

    As for Karen’s assertion about vicious and snobby snark of Doctor Who and such geekdom institutions, things have changed considerably in the past twenty years. While the distasteful parts of sports fanaticism has changed little in that time, the “geeky” activities have become more and more respectable — but even now it’s frequently snarkily dismissed, but far more quietly.

    As for me, I just want the trash-talking to stop. On all sides.

  48. As a fellow geek/nerd/intellectual, I found your article very interesting. I have never been much of a sports fan, though I do watch games if others are watching. I have also attended games or Superbowl parties with friends as a social gathering. I think of sports as a form of entertainment similar to TV or movies. I often prefer entertainment that also has some type of educational or informational content, but sometimes it is good to just enjoy something, especially with friends. I know I am guilty of watching plenty of “dumb” or action movies in my life.

    I did notice another angle to your article. Many of the same points would apply if you replaced football or sports with guns or shooting sports. Often intellectuals are proud of the fact that they are ignorant about guns and have never shot one. About 50% of the US population owns guns, but many intellectuals think of gun owners as “stupid”, “rednecks”, or “Republicans”. I have noticed that there are many intellectuals in the tech fields who own and enjoy guns. There are many tech conferences which have adjacent shooting events. Also, many tech companies have official or unofficial shooting clubs, like Microsoft, Google, Adobe, and Qualcomm. Not all gun owners are Republicans either. Many are Democrats, libertarians, liberals, progressives, or independents.

    I think your article is a great way to get people to look at their intellectual prejudices. I hope it has encouraged the readers to open their minds.

    1. Thanks! Religion is the other example that I was thinking about. Of course, religion is a belief system as well as a core part of our cultures. In that sense, I do think it’s important to cultivate a knowledge of the religions that the people around us subscribe to even if we don’t buy into the belief system uncritically.

  49. This is hands down the funniest thing I have read (also comments). Thank you Benjamin for being so completely self-unawares as to think that sports are how the working class poors relate to each other. Without your condescending examination of modern sportsball culture I’m sure that you and the rest of your self righteous techie culture would never be able to relate to the struggles of a single mother living in section eight housing trying to feed three children and go to school. Thank goodness that you’ve broken the code on this one. Idiot.

  50. Reading more comments I’m wondering if you’ve all mapped out your navels completely after looking at them for so long, Christ almighty I’ve never met a more pretentious group of self-righteous pseudo-intelligencia blowhards and I’ve been around a LOT of different people. Maybe if you all stepped out of your safe little boxes and explored the world a little you’d pick up a thing or two about “the working class.”

  51. I loathe sports, because it is watching other people play games. There could be nothing more passive,mind-numbing, and anti-intellectual than devoting my life to obsessing about what other people do with their lives. I have my own passions and plans.

    Also, “disinterested” and “uninterested” are two different words with two different meaning.

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