Growing up as someone who valued academics and performing arts, I had always harbored a wee bit of resentment toward sports and athletes. Perhaps this resentment arose in high school where I found injustice in that athletic departments are given more money and attention than arts programs ever will. Perhaps it was jealousy that the jocks were higher up on the social ladder than the oboists. Maybe the source of my resentment can be traced back to my early days playing youth soccer alongside every other little boy in America – an experience during which I spent most of my time picking dandelions in whichever part of the field the coach determined I would cause the least amount of damage.
After all, dandelions don’t yell at you and make you run laps. Dandelions don’t judge you for being a lazy fat slob. Dandelions love you for who you are on the inside.
In any case, I was all too eager to project the negative “jock” stereotype onto my fellow classmates even though, in retrospect, they were all good people. I saw an interest in sports as placing value on the more brutish, less refined aspects of society. This wasn’t an opinion held solely by myself – a lot of my artistic colleagues tended to view athletics begrudgingly, especially in light of not having enough departmental money to repair the school contrabassoon.
But then I went to college and realized that valuing sports isn’t actually bad, but rather, something that, as an artist, we should openly do. Here’s why:
1. Being an athlete requires practice and dedication.
We, in the world of music, spend hours upon hours per day perfecting our craft. The amount of time and effort we put into mastering the skills of our trade is perhaps one reason we are so defensive about its cultural value – if you spent half of your waking life playing scales, you would damn well want your scales appreciated.
Athletes also spend hours upon hours per day perfecting their craft. While we’re in the practice room playing scales, they’re on the court shooting free-throws. It requires the same finesse, the same focus, and the same drive for an artist to achieve the level of skill necessary to be happily employed as it does for the athlete to become employable. The least we could do is appreciate hard work, practice, and dedication.
2. Most sports require a refined sense of subtlety and a keen eye.
It’s not like sports are just contests of brute force. There is an element of smarts and mental aptitude required to succeed in any team sport and most individual sports. Even football, the quintessential sport for brainless jocks, involves strategy and quick decision-making. Plays are drawn up and studied for months before the first game, and opposing sides must read each other and make decisions in real time based on wits and gut. Executing a successful play takes artistic mastery and teamwork, not unlike executing an orchestral passage.
There is an aesthetically satisfying elegance that comes forth when a quarterback throws a perfect spiral to a wide open receiver who then jukes the safety and scores a touchdown. It might as well be the soloist bringing the cadenza into the triumphant recapitulation of a concerto. Both require artistic mastery and refinement, and both make the crowd go wild.
3. Athletics is a celebration of passion.
Music is the aural representation of passion. That’s why we love it: it evokes a wide variety of feelings hardly felt elsewhere in daily life. Through music, we can experience emotions otherwise unknown to us, or known to us all too well – the terrors of war, the joys of love, the anxiety of meaninglessness, the simple pleasures of a nice day, etc…
…which is why athletics should be all the more valuable to our artistic experiences. The emotions the players experience on the field, as they overcome all odds to win the day or fall to the ground in the agony of defeat, provide a greater breadth of emotional language than we ever get commuting to and from our accounting jobs on weekdays. Being emotionally involved in sports is how we break out of our monotonous lives and feel feelings once again, even if it is just for a saturday night college football game.
Art requires passion. Sports require passion. Both produce emotional responses.
4. Teams promote regional rivalries which result in cultural diversity and pride.
In art, we tend to value the expression of culture. We see diversity in craft as a positive result of nationalism or regionalist tendencies. It’s why we can talk about “Russian Romantics” and “French Impressionists” and why Bartok’s work in ethnomusicology defined early 20th century compositional styles. The difference in flavor between a Ukrainian gypsy playing an accordion and an Appalachian hillbilly playing a banjo is what makes music an infinite resource for entertainment, and it’s that diversity that allows us to be proud of our own regional artistic language.
Pride in one’s region through art is not unlike pride in one’s region through supporting a local team. Traditional dresses worn in commemoration of your heritage is not unlike wearing an orange and black SF Giants shirt in commemoration of the town in which you grew up and the culture associated therein. When I wear Giants clothes, it’s not just me rooting for the Giants, it’s me rooting for the City of San Francisco, Northern California, the redwoods, the Bay, sourdough bread, crab dinners, Tahoe, Yosemite…
…okay, maybe I’m being a little too grandiose. But really, can you not celebrate the beauty of your native Bohemia both in listening to Dvorak and in cheering on the Czech athletes in the Olympics?
5. Playing sports reminds us that our bodies are among our most valuable creative tools.
We exist on this earth packed into little bags of meat. These bags of meat are how we interact with everything. Athletes know this. Dancers know this. Musicians tend to forget until the carpal tunnel arrives. Composers write notes for instruments, not necessarily for human beings. In a concert, everyone wears black to take away the physical humanity in order to reorient the focus onto the aural humanity.
But lest we forget, rhythm was created hand-in-hand with dance and movement. Using our bodies to feel or produce music provides for a greater understanding and internalization of the music, not only on a rhythmic level, but also on the level of emotional involvement. Exercising, getting hit, and generally interacting with people on a physical level reminds us that we exist and that our bags of meat can do a lot of different and amazing things.
Also, getting up off your fat ass and throwing a ball makes you healthier. Do it.