sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

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Like many a sports-crazed lad, I grew up thinking about what it would be like to take my kids to a ball game. We’d be sitting in a colorful arena, watching our team, in the midst of a pleasantly churning crowd, cracking nuts, smiling at the ease and joy of it all. But it’s not like that anymore. Big-time sports at all levels are hopelessly corrupt, egocentric, decadent. You have to be willfully ignorant to look past it all and soak in the simple joys of a game. But we are lollipop heads,so we keep fueling it with our interest.

Before you get all in a dither, note that I used the pronoun “we” before “lollipop heads,” because I watch pro football in a way that can only fairly be described as addiction. I’m a sucker too.

I’ve grown to despise most other big-time sports — D1 college football and basketball; pro hockey; and the most corrupt sport of all, major league baseball — and I’ve engaged in a quixotic campaign of uninterest. Noble to me, pitiful (and often annoying) to everyone else, I proclaim my ignorance of these sports. Whatever invisible scaffolding of fan passion that eventually manifests itself in tangible ticket and merchandise sales, whatever beams of loyalty the whole is constructed upon, will not be built by me, I stubbornly think. The louts in charge won’t make money off me.

This year, legions of lollipop heads sanctioned and blessed the latest “labor dispute” (labor!) between the rich people involved in the NHL by not only attending the games once the season started again but by selling out practices. We have no shame.

Fans’ anger about strikes and lockouts (and cheating, spouse-beating, drug abuse, the occasional murder, etc.) has accomplished nothing. We feel individually angry but collectively futile. No boycotting campaign would work, because in our lollipop head please-entertain-me culture, sports tickets have become basically fungible: If you don’t buy ‘em, someone else will.

Is there a gesture that could restore order to the madness of professional sports? It would have to be something dramatic, something almost sacrilegious, something reflective of what drives it: The passion and love of the sports fan.

Well, here’s what I would love to see:, a Website dedicated to videos of people burning their tickets. You might say owners and players would smirk at the prospect, because they still got your money for the tickets. But they didn’t get your $15 bucks for parking and your $12 for beer and your $20 foam #1 finger. And the desecration of a ticket, the will it took to burn it, might just be so disturbing and unexpected that people would be forced to take it seriously. Those in big-time sports bank on the idea that fan apathy is unimaginable. But meeting passion with passion? We could have them chewing their nails.

(By the way, you can’t listen to sports writers about these topics. Occasionally they’re commissioned to write such pieces, lamenting the state of sports. But remember, they make money writing about sports. If they wanted to do something, they’d quit and go cover town council meetings or write restaurant reviews. Hypocrites.)

Public ticket burning expresses dramatically the fans’ main interest: To preserve (or bring back) the good of sports. Like, I want my kids to be able to enjoy the spectacle without feeling I have to shield them from cheats, rapists, and misanthropes. I want to go to a game again without feeling like I’m getting gouged.

I’m no economist, but it’s clear that what you get for your money is variable and often intangible. You don’t just get a widget for your dollar. You often get something else, like when you buy luxury items with fancy logos. You get buzz. So instead of seeing publicized ticket burning as purely a fanciful, maybe wasteful, exercise, see it as a way to use your economic clout to exert control. You could get a lot of buzz and satisfaction thinking that you were, well, voting.

I do love sports, but I hate feeling abused by big-time sports. When I ask people why they watch the NHL this season, they think I’m crazy for even asking, even those who were very bitter about the lockout. What can they do about it all? They’ll just put up with it — and they’ll put up with the next strike/lockout too. I know asserting fan control seems economically, emotionally, and practically impossible, but  in the age of the Web organization, it really isn’t.

We just need a Webmaster. We don’t have to be lollipop heads. anyone?

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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7 Responses to “”

  1. I could sadly but accurately interchange sports with so many other areas, pop music, arts & culture, the auto shows, even politics. It’s vexing and exponentially getting harder to feel like “we” can actually have impact on a large scale in the United States.

  2. Hmm Dr. Warnock, you make me think…

  3. I wrote a response prior to this, but I was just on a roll when I reached my space limit. This topic requires discussion. Here’s my best summarization. Athletes and organizations have not “earned” our fandom on a moral, principled level for a long time. Just ask Bill Tilden, Ty Cobb, or the 1919 Black Sox. I can forgive locked out players faster than I can murderers of people and dogs, but I still watch the NFL. We don’t watch for them; we watch for us. They are still the best in the world, and that is the product we deem ourselves worthy to watch. I have read books by authors whose personal lives or political stances or public actions I strongly abhor. And forget about cinema or music. No matter how much they yank us around, we won’t burn our tickets; we need them to get in.

  4. “Fungible,” indeed. We are pleased.

  5. Great column. I stopped watching the NFL a long time ago because the idea of spending 8 hours on a Sunday watching TV seemed kind of silly and wasteful to me when (a) the autumn is my favorite time of the year and (b) I had kids who were much more interested in doing stuff outside. This decision is one I’m proud of, particularly in light of what I think the NFL has become: a massive corporation with the perhaps the worst HR department in the history of big companies. In what other massive American corporation would the behavior of employees like those in the NFL be tolerated? Here’s the short answer: None.I don’t think there is any joy in pro sports anymore. Players are connected to a community strictly by contract and compensation. The endless labor disputes, rising costs of tickets, commoditization and monetization of the game, unwillingness of players and coaches to, say, not shoot people, or murder their girlfriends, or torture and drown dogs, or rape children (D1 is essentially pro) says enough about what pro sports has come to represent: money supersedes the game and all manner behavior is tolerated so long as people keep watching and spending. Cynical? maybe. But I’d much rather watch high school football, soccer, or go run a 5k, than support professional sports these days. So yeah, I’ll burn my tickets.

  6. Interesting timing with this piece considering the announcement today that the IOC has dropped Wrestling from the Olympics.

  7. my cousin billy loves hockey.
    i love my cousin billy, so i love hockey.
    you hate billy, so you hate hockey.
    i now have to hate you.

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