Has the Age of Trump Ruined Sports Fandom?Roundup
tags: sports, Donald Trump
Robert Lipsyte is a TomDispatch regular and a former sports and city columnist for the New York Times. He is the author, among other works, of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland.
If you think that the true focus of the recent World Series was what the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves were doing on the field, you were either living in Texas, Georgia, or on some billionaire’s space station. In the world that lies somewhere between rabid fandom and total baseball disinterest, the fall classic actually proved to be a contest pitting the cheaters against the racists with a disturbing outcome that might be summed up this way: to the spoiled belongs the victory.
And don’t think this was purely a baseball phenomenon. I can’t wait to see who will be competing in next February’s Super Bowl, although the most obvious early contenders are homophobia, sexism, and vaccination misinformation. As for the basketball, hockey, and Olympic seasons, I’m putting my money on the likelihood that predatory sexuality, financial inequality, and transgender discrimination will be right up there alongside the commercials for Nike and gambling.
I consider all this the upshot of what appears to be a shift in the very nature of fandom, a moral drift. Fandom has traditionally been mostly regional. In recent years, however, it has begun to take on the worst of the corrupted tribalism that has dominated so much of life outside the arena, the ballpark, and the stadium ever since Donald Trump became America’s coach. Before that, sports was generally considered a crucible for character, a place to define righteous principles, or at least to pay lip service to the high road, whether anyone was on it or not.
Of course, as Trump himself was more a symptom of ongoing developments in this country than the originator of them, this moral drift in sports started years ago when TV and shoe company money further corrupted the arms-race competition among colleges for box-office athletes. Think of Trump as the blowhard who fanned the already growing flames, or perhaps more accurately — by provoking the fanatics — flamed the fans. This shifting sense of sports, fandom, and life in America started gathering velocity in the late 1990s as performance-enhancing drugs proliferated and the National Football League’s (NFL’s) ongoing cover-up of the brain traumas the sport caused so many of its players began to be revealed.
Soon enough, though, cover-ups of just about any sort became unnecessary as the world of Trumpism affirmed that the strategic use of lies and bad behavior was at least as acceptable as were well thought out personal fouls in soccer and basketball. And all of that was before the complications of the Covid-19 pandemic led professional athletes to realize that it was about time they assumed active responsibility for their own physical and mental health — if they wanted to survive.
International stars like tennis champion Naomi Osaka and Olympic medal winning gymnast Simone Biles found themselves crushed by the pressure exerted on them by major sports institutions whose only interests, whatever their fates, seemed to be eternal profits. Even pro football players are becoming involved in their own mental health.
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