Why do we love sports?

Tomorrow morning I’ll be live blogging an hour of Midmorning on the nature of being a sports fan.

I know what you’re thinking: Stupid fat men sitting on the couch with a remote, distant from their families and obsessed with their favorite team. And I’m here to deny it — at least the part about being distant from the family.

But what if it’s more than that? What if it’s us looking for a community of our own? Or what if it’s the main tool we have to bridge generations?

Fan free-agent John Moe is hosting and I’ll be passing along your analysis and excuses. So post them below.

Guests are:

Chuck Klosterman: Journalist and author. His most recent novel is “Downtown Owl.”

Jonah Keri: Sports and business writer. He is co-author of “Baseball Between the Numbers” and is currently working on a book about the Tampa Bay Rays.

Todd Wilkinson: Associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

We tried for Bill Simmons, everyone’s favorite sportswriter these days, but had no luck. He didn’t return our calls or e-mails. He’s a sports fan and, well, you know how they are.

  • Kate M.

    I’m surprised that Bill Simmons didn’t respond to any of your requests. He was hoping to get the GM job with the Wolves.

  • bob

    Why do so many people love sports? I don’t know — I’m an outlier, in that I’m one of the few guys who is not a jock sniffer. I played sports when I was a kid and wasn’t too bad at it, but have in my adult years spent little or no time on sports or sports-related activities. I do watch a little PGA golf now and then, but that’s about it. I just can’t relate to the corruption that is college sports, or to the steroid-suffused, tattoo-polluted pros making million of dollars a year for private interests that sucker politicians into putting taxpayers on the hook to pay for their stadiums.

    Sports to me is a very hollow culture, indeed.

  • kennedy

    On a lighter note, sport does provide something of benefit. It is an ever-fresh conversational topic that you can safely discuss with a majority of men (sexist but true). Unlike politics or religion, spirited disagreements result in kinship rather than separation.

    Personally, I rarely have time to actually watch entire contests. Catching the highlights is usually enough to participate in a conversation and segue into other topics. Spend 5 minutes with the sports page and you are prepped for chat. Topics in Minneapolis/Saint Paul tomorrow will be the NBA playoffs, the Twins, something from the Viking’s training camp, and in a pinch the new management for the Wild. Mentally jot a few names for conversational bonus points.

    Note: If you are traveling, scan the local sports page before arrival. Your knowledge of local sports will start you off in good standing.

  • mulad

    I don’t like sports. When I get a new TV, the first channels to go are the religious ones, then the second ones to go away are ESPN and friends. I’m not a competitive person by nature, and my teams were mostly on the losing side during my teenage years.

    Of course, once you become a guy in the position of not caring about sports, it’s amazing how many girls turn out to have undying love of baseball, hockey, or football…

  • Paul

    The appeal of sports of pretty straight forward. It’s a protected social environment with specialized knowledge and rules that participants (spectators) can join without consequence or admission requirements. It provides a safe common ground for conversation and social interaction. It’s compelling entertainment that offers fans an opportunity for affiliation without reprisal. As a protected social environment it provides a space for otherwise socially unacceptable behavior (face painting, etc.). Finally, it is ultimately inconsequential therefore free of any risk or responsibility, if you say the Vikings have a good defense and you turn out to be wrong, it doesn’t matter.

    I think a far more interesting question is whether or not and to what extent Americans are preoccupied with sports. Is this preoccupation having a negative impact on out society? Related, what are the characteristics and myths associated with this preoccupation.

  • Bob Collins

    //Americans are preoccupied with sports

    As opposed to what? Politics? American Idol? Kids with cancer? North Korea?

  • Longtime NY Giants fan (born and raised in NYC after all).

    NFL football is the only sport I really follow. Its not really because of fandom that I enjoy the sport, so much as it is a love of the game itself.

    For love of the game. I enjoy the birds eye view of what football is. Sure, its a brutal game played by people making several orders of magnitude more than I, but I enjoy the strategic and tactical aspects of the game.

    Also, consider the regularity and frequency of major league sports (as opposed to the Olympics). It can easily slot into the calendar of life. Every Sunday in the fall, there Football is, waiting for me. It gives me something to look forward to, and to talk with my co-workers (Vikings fans, all!) afterwards. Sports can really be a social lubricant.

  • Paul

    //As opposed to what? Politics? American Idol? Kids with cancer? North Korea?

    Don’t be silly, even the New York Times devotes more space to sports than politics. Have you seen the number of hours devoted to sports broadcasts on the weekend? Maybe I missed it, are soccer mom’s, hockey mom’s etc. being replaced by “idol” moms? Yeah, did you hear last weekend no one showed up for all the baseball and lacrosse games because they were home reading about North Korea. Pfff. How do MPR’s morning ratings compare with the sports talk and other morning shows that talk more about sports like KQ? Do they even have a political channel on cable? Do the news cable channels have higher ratings than ESPN?

  • Orag

    I am a sports fan, to the surprise of those who know me mainly as a huge supporter of arts, performing arts, and literature. Many think arts and sports are an odd mix. However, I like sports for many of the same reasons I like arts: literature, theater, and sports events all have a dramatic storyline, often suspenseful. They also give glimpses into human nature, and the better sports rivalries are moving and riveting, just like great art!

  • Bob Collins

    //Don’t be silly, even the New York Times devotes more space to sports than politics.

    No they don’t. In fact, I believe they eliminated the sports SECTION last year. The exception might be on Monday.

  • Jim!!!

    Maybe there’s a sports watching gene – if there is I don’t have it.

  • Paul

    //Don’t be silly, even the New York Times devotes more space to sports than politics.

    //No they don’t. In fact, I believe they eliminated the sports SECTION last year. The exception might be on Monday.

    I get the Sunday NYTs delivered my home. I’m looking at the sport section right now, lead story: “Rocky Mountain Cool Heats Up the Nuggets”. No Idol, North korea, or Kids With Cancer section I’m afraid.

  • Bob Collins

    You’re looking on the wrong page. Try the front page. You know, the “A” section.

    But you haven’t answered the original follow-up question. What specifically is not getting America’s attention because they’re watching a few hours of sports?

    The NYT Web site top story right now, by the way, is about a comedian. Sigh.

  • Bob Collins

    The Times eliminated sports as a standalone section last fall. There’s still an A section for news.

  • Paul

    //You’re looking on the wrong page. Try the front page. You know, the “A” section.

    Now your really being silly. I’m looking at the sports section, which you said was eliminated last year, obviously your mistaken. The sports section is 12 pages long. Is your story about the comedian 12 pages long? Can you find 12 pages on politics, Idol, or kids with cancer? Not to mention we’re talking about the NYTs, in last Sunday’s NYTs the A section was 23 pages, almost twice as big as the sports section. The Stribs sports section was 13 pages with an A section of 18 pages. The Stribs sports section is the 2nd largest section in the newspaper. And sports stories are frequently on the front page of the A section in the strib.

    As to your question about inattention, it’s a very long list young man. Consider North Korea, how many people do you think can name the current leader of NK? Now, how many people do you think can name the retired quarterback the Vikings are thinking about hiring? How many people can name their state rep or congressperson compared to the aforementioned quarterback? How many people can tell you whether or not the Twins won last night compared with how LGA cuts are going to affect their property taxes and services? How many people could accurately tell you the scores and records of whatever teams were playing whatever they were playing at the time; compared with whether or not Iraq had something to do with the Sept 11 attacks? (in the months before and after the beginning of the war). Need I go on?

    By the way, I’m looking at the NYTs web page: http://www.nytimes.com/ And I’m not seeing any stories about comedians. They got the GM story, and off duty officer shot story, and a bunch of other stuff. I get the headlines via e-mail every morning and there’s no mention of comedians there either.

  • Paul

    //The Times eliminated sports as a standalone section last fall. There’s still an A section for news.

    Dude, I’m looking at the “sports” section, what do you want me do send you a picture?

  • Bob Collins

    No, sir, you were not looking at the sports SECTION. You were looking at the sports PAGES. B10-B15. That’s the B section of the Time which also includes business. The Times no longer prints a daily standalone sports section.

    It does, however, print a standalone NEWS section, also known as the A section, where I suspect there are more column inches devoted to politics than sports. That doesn’t even include the two pages of the Opinion page which are almost ALL about politics.

  • Bob Collins

    //Consider North Korea, how many people do you think can name the current leader of NK?

    Probably the same number who can name the general manager of the Twins.

    // How many people can tell you whether or not the Twins won last night compared with how LGA cuts are going to affect their property taxes and services?

    You’re taking MACRO and comparing it to MICRO. With your argument, the question would more accurately be: “how many people can tell you how Nick Punto did at the plate in four appearances compared to how LGA cuts are going to affect their property taxes.

    Or… how many people can tell you the budget problems at the Capitol ARE going to affect their property taxes?

    In each case, I’d say people are a lot smarter than you give them credit for.

    Over the course of six months last year, 2,302,431 went to see the Twins. Over 13 hours in one day, 2,885,555 people voted in the Minnesota Senate race.

    Your narrative doesn’t really answer the question of what is not being paid attention to because people are watch sporting events, it merely raises rhetorical questions, I guess, to show that people are uninformed because they pay more attention to sports.

    People pay attention to a lot of things, sometimes at the expense of other things.

    I know a lot of people who go to sports events and take their kids and that’s time they share together. So people go to watch their kids play soccer? Why is that a bad thing on a general level?

  • Paul

    Is this really Bob Colins? Your telling me what I’m looking at? What I’m physically holding in my hands? And you know this how? I guess I really do have to send you picture.

    (BC: Yes, please send me a photo of today’s New York Times standalone sports section)

  • Paul

    //(BC: Yes, please send me a photo of today’s New York Times standalone sports section)

    Holy cow Bob, I said:

    //I get the Sunday NYTs delivered my home. I’m looking at the sport section right now, lead story: “Rocky Mountain Cool Heats Up the Nuggets”.

    Note the “Sunday”

  • Bob Collins

    What was on the front page. the page more people saw?

  • bsimon

    From Bob’s link:

    “The Sports report will go into the section that begins with Business Day, on Tuesdays through Fridays, while Sports will remain a separate section on weekends and on Mondays.”

    Therefore, it is entirely consistent that Paul can be holding Sunday’s sports section in his hand, and that the sports section has been eliminated [from the daily NYT].

  • kennedy

    I don’t think it’s fair to say americans are any more or less obsessed with sports than the rest of the world. I have seen plenty of video showing riots and fighting at european soccer matches.

    Interesting statistics at alexa.com

    In the US, cnn gets more web traffic than espn.

  • Paul

    //Over the course of six months last year, 2,302,431 went to see the Twins. Over 13 hours in one day, 2,885,555 people voted in the Minnesota Senate race.

    You’ve been playing with too many sports stats. These numbers don’t prove anything. So three million Minnesotan’s voted, once in two years. According your own numbers 4,604,862 went to twins games in the same period of time. How many watched how many games on tv or listened to how many games on the radio during that period of time? and They’re not just watching the twins, there’s the gophers games, the Saint’s etc. Do any of these numbers prove anything one way or the other? No.

    //Your narrative doesn’t really answer the question of what is not being paid attention to because people are watch sporting events, it merely raises rhetorical questions, I guess, to show that people are uninformed because they pay more attention to sports.

    I answered your question, you just don’t like the answers. Why switch out the general manager for the quarterback anyways? The reason I choose the quarterback is because it’s been in the news as has the nuclear test in North Korea. Has the GM been in the news? I pay absolutely no attention to sports so all I see are lead stories and headlines. If the same number of people really do know the GMs name as know the Kim Jong-il, I say that proves my point since the GM has only appeared on the sports pages.

    I think a case can be made that Americans are more preoccupied with sports than other nations. Yes, the hooligan riots make the news, but they simply don’t have as much sports as we do. We have four major sports, year round. Internationally besides the Olympics there is basically soccer, one sport, and one one big championship, the world cup. I suppose tennis is international, and there are probably tennis fans in europe, but here in the states we have daily games of one kind or another, sometimes multiple games the same day, that are heavily attended year round. I don’t have any stats in front of me but I’d bet Americans spend more time attending to sports than any other population in the world.

    As to the newspaper dust up, for one thing, I hate to point this out but even if the NYT’s had completely cut their sports section (which they did not), that wouldn’t negate my point. For the record, I did send bob the pictures of my sports section. Bob said the Sports section was gone, it’s not, he was wrong. I said I was holding the NYTs sunday sports section in my hands, I was. Turns out, the NYTs cut the sports section m-th and retained it with some modifications Fri-Sun. Now, today is the second time in ten years I’ve actually looked at the NYT’s sports section, and having done so I noticed something. I was comparing the number of pages, I think ten in the sports section to 23 in the “A” section for the NYTs. But here’s the thing, if you look at the sports section, or at the pictures I sent Bob, you notice that there’s many fewer ads than there are in the “A” section. The “A” section on the other hand has many full page, half page, and other sundry ads. In other words, the actual amount of space devoted to reporting sports may well be more or as much as that devoted to news once you cut the ads out of the “A” section. And don’t forget, sports reporting is not limited to the sports section, whereas you’ll never find North Korean nuke tests in the sports section. At any rate a simple page count underestimates the ratio of sports to news in the newspaper.

    So what does this all mean? Obviously it’s not going to be settled here. But all I said is it would be interesting to think about and discuss. More interesting than why we like sports. Maybe that’s just me. I think sports in the country is out of control, I suspect I’m in the minority.

  • Paul

    Just a quick note,

    Looking at the site provided by Kennedy- Alexa.com

    In the US, ESPN is ranked as the 19th most visited website, while in the UK, the first sports website is 35th, and in France it’s 26th.

    Again this probably underestimates sport attention because people may well be looking up sports in some of the higher ranked sites as well, but on the face of it supports my contention that Americans spend more time looking at sports.

  • Bob Collins

    Really? We’re to hold the UK up as an example of a country with its sports interest under control?

    At least the Twins don’t have “hooligans” who run people over with a bus because they don’t like the way the opposing fans are celebrating a win.

    But what are Web sites #1-18?

  • Bob Collins

    //the actual amount of space devoted to reporting sports may well be more or as much as that devoted to news once you cut the ads out of the “A” section.

    Which would mean the Times has more sports reporters on staff than news reporters/columnists.

    I find that impossible to believe.

  • Paul

    Bob,

    We have sports riots here as well, in fact you’ve discussed them on News Cut. And we have parents attacking referees on the field, etc. Americans see some kind of sports riot in Europe on the news once and a while and they conclude that MUST mean they’re more into sports than we are. This is simply isn’t true.

    You know the number of reporters doesn’t determine the amount content that’s makes it into the paper or on the air. Space and time are the issue, if any paper wanted to print more sports they could do so with hiring more reporters. And again, news reporters are not infrequently assigned to cover sports stories, sports coverage is not limited to the staff in the sports department. In fact I don’t think MPR even has a sports department, but you still cover sports once and a while.

    We could expand this conversation but you won’t like where we end up. Look at local TV news for example, every station has more sports reporters than they have political reporters. On WCCO for instance you have Pat Kestler covering the Capital, they got what 3 or 4 people covering sports? And again they press other reporters into sports, DeRusha answered a bunch of baseball questions the other night. Kessler gets what a minute and a half to do reality checks while sports get five to ten minutes, and that’s when they don’t lead with a sports story. Everyone led with the Favre story for two days in a row, in addition the normal time devoted to sports. And don’t forget we’re not just talking about reporters, every day they send cameras out to daily “press conferences” the various teams have, despite the fact that no one ever actually says anything… and they air that tape.

    You’ll have to look the Alexa site for yourself, it’s not coming up right now for some reason. CNN was 16th, I remember that, so ESPN wasn’t that far behind at 19.

  • Paul

    Mean to say: “without hiring more reporters”, in other words it’s an editorial decision, not a logistical one.

  • Bob Collins

    //ou know the number of reporters doesn’t determine the amount content that’s makes it into the paper or on the air. Space and time are the issue, if any paper wanted to print more sports they could do so with hiring more reporters. And again, news reporters are not infrequently assigned to cover sports stories, sports coverage is not limited to the staff in the sports department. In fact I don’t think MPR even has a sports department, but you still cover sports once and a while.

    The number of reporters and their assignments are in proportion to what ends up on the air and — in the case of the times — in the paper. We don’t cover sports much — other than an occasional Q & A with a host or a thumbsucker piece when a team goes to the playoffs — and we have no one assigned to sports.

    Similarly, if the Times did cover more news than sports, it would be reflected in the staff makeup. I’ll bet the sports department there is a fraction of what the news side is.

    As for TV news, I cannot speak to that. There are very few reporters at the stations anymore and there’s a lot of consultant-driven stuff. I don’t know that sports gets that much time anymore. Weather seems to be what people want out of local news anymore.

    As for Jason, the fact he answered some baseball questions doesn’t mean much. I’ll bet his Good Questions are about 50:1 non-sports to sports.

    In any event, sports almost never leads the news — except on weekends when nothing’s going on — or Bret Favre, I guess. Usually “news” (defined here as non-sports) leads the news. Non sports is what’s on the front page of the papers. Non-sports is what’s on at the top of the hour newscasts almost everywhere.

    If news orgs thought sports was more important than news, that wouldn’t be the case. But for the purposes of the audience, they don’t consider unimportant either. Which is why they put some in the paper and on the TV. But it almost never replaces news.

    Nor should it, of course.

  • Paul

    Bob,

    You must not watch TV news, Sports leads a lot. Like I said, the Favre story led two nights in a row, on every channel, I know because I switched through all of them trying find one that didn’t, and that was in the middle of the week, and that’s just a recent example. I’d say once every week or two they lead with sports. And the Strib frequently has sports on the front page. Right now on Strib’s webs site a Viking wildcat (whatever that means) is the second most popular story, and there are three more, another Vikings story, a Gophers story, and baseball story. I can’t believe you’re actually denying how much attention sports gets from the news media. I mean we haven’t even talked about the fact almost every channel has a local half hour program devoted to sports on the weekend. I think channel five is the only one that even has a local program devoted to politics- At Issue I think it is.

  • Paul

    O.K O.K, I couldn’t resist, and this surprises even me. Here’s the scoop on today NYTs and Strib:

    NYT’s “A” news section, 26 pages total, 11 pages of ad for a for a total of 15 pages of news. Actually less because I’m not doing an exhaustive survey, I just counted the full and half page ads, obviously there’s more ad space, and less news than that. NYT’s sports section is 9 pages with 3/4 ad space leaving 8 and 1/4 pages, roughly half that of the news section. But the NYTs is a particularily newsy paper, look at the Strib;

    Strib “A” section- 20 pages total with 10 1/2 pages of ads leaving 9 1/2 pages of news. Stribs sports section is 11-12 pages (depending if you want to the story about fishing) with one half a page of ads leaving 10 1/2 to 11 1/2 pages of sports.

    So the strib is literally devoting more space to sports than it is news in it’s “A” section. I have no idea how many reporters are involved in this, but there you have it. Now of course if you toss the local metro section in that tips the balance back in favor of the news, but there’s not a lot of news in those local sections, lot’s of gardening, weather, etc. And then there are the days when sport leads in the “A” section, which completely tilts it back in favor of sports. Again, I’m being conservative here, I’m not counting all the ads just the big ones, check it out for yourself if you don’t believe me.

  • Bob Collins

    The A section isn’t the only news section in the Strib.

  • Paul

    I give up, the boys in denial.

  • Bob Collins

    I measured 700 column inches of news copy in the A section. I measured 645 column inches in the Sports section, and that includes the box scores and the agate type page.

    There are two “news” sections on Sunday. The A Section and the Metro section.

    Since there was more news copy that sports copy just after counting the A section. I didn’t bother calculating the amount of news space in the Metro section.

    And of course I didn’t include the Opinion page which also appears to be about news.

  • Paul

    I don’t know why we’re arguing about the paper anyways, Nobody’s reading newspapers these days. (Ouch)

    How do you measure a column inch anyways?