It’s often said that sports are a substitute for warfare, an alternative place for people to channel their most destructive instincts. As someone with only benevolent instincts I’ve never felt the appeal, but the thought occurred to me that one might learn quite a bit about cultures’ psyches by paying attention to their choice of sports.
For example, consider football. Each team has a leader, who controls the gaol and is allowed to break the rules. The rest of the players coordinate in a decentralized manner to set up shots at the other team’s leader, whose job is to survive the assassination attempts. Football is the most popular sport in Venezuela, Colombia, Nigeria, Brazil and Turkey. In the United States, however, the name refers to something else entirely.
In American football, each team’s leader is a general who sits on the sidelines and gives orders to a group of drug-enhanced supersoldiers, who were selected by the draft. One team’s goal is to take the “political football” and deliver it into the other team’s territory; the other team’s goal is to find the player with the football and detain him, so that the referee can see who’s really responsible. Recent studies have shown players suffering brain damage from repeated concussions, but no one knows what to do about this so things pretty much continue on as usual.
Not all sports represent warfare, though! Consider basketball, also popular in the United States. In basketball, two teams of mostly black people compete to see which is taller, thereby demonstrating their superior genes.
Um. I mean, um. Baseball! Look at baseball. In baseball, players approach one by one, and everyone works together to stop them from scoring home runs. A home run is a well-standardized euphemism for having sex. Other key players are the pitcher and catcher, which are well-standardized euphemisms for participants in gay sex. In fact, pretty much every baseball-related term is a euphemism for something sexual, at least according to UrbanDictionary. Whereas in Britain, they play a game that’s superficially the same except none of its terminology is euphemistic. This is because the British are uncultured barbarians.
I wish I could say that the historical shift in peoples’ choice of sports reflected the advancing enlightenment and universal culture. Instead, I will observe that in the de facto national sport of South Korea, which is Starcraft, one third of players are literally giant insects and the most exciting moments for spectators involve nuclear weapons.