Interesting topic to write about that came from a piece (well, two pieces actually) on ESPN.com by Jeff MacGregor.
I came across them via a Chris Jones twitter recommendation of MacGregor and I agree with Jones... it's good writing that leads one to thinking on the topic (which of course is in many cases, the definition of good writing).
The first story from MacGregor was "What do you still believe about sports?" and it was a call to his readers asking for their commentary on the question. Following up on this a week or so later was the piece "Fan belief and disbelief" with some of the responses received.
I was fairly well fascinated reading people's missives on the question and it led me to consider my own answer. What I found myself doing while looking at my belief in sports was actually looking at the importance I attach to them.
First thing in my opinion is a separation of sports as a topic area into (A) sports as a participant and (B) sports as a fan.
Thinking of sports as an actual participant, I think they're a great thing... both for kids and adults. For a child, they can both entertain and teach those life lesson things about trying hard and working with others. For an adult, the entertainment portion of the equation trumps the life lesson part, but the portion of that entertainment that involves trying hard and being part of the team... yea, that's still a good thing for us older type people. So, in summary of sports as a particpant... I do believe in them and think they matter.
The second topic area of sports as a fan and how much they matter and you believe in them (which is more of what I think MacGregor asking about anyways), this is a bit more complicated of an answer.
As a young lad (you know, prior to the ripe old age of 37), following sports mattered more than to me now due to time available and priorities of how to use that time. With having both kids and career aspirations (which may well take even longer than career goals because aspirations oft have to be figured out... taking additional time), sports just aren't as important as they used to be for me.
What following or watching sports in the time I allocate to them has become is entertainment. The import of it all (and whether my particular team wins or loses) isn't there in my mind as much as when I was younger, but the entertainment still certainly is. Seeing someone achieve greatly on a large stage... that's still highly entertaining to me even knowing that in the context of my life and family, it's not that big a deal.
This approaches the question of sports as a fan from the import perspective, but MacGregor's question is around belief... especially in relation to things like steroids and cheating.
On this topic, I'm a bit conflicted. I think my entertainment the most important thing (for me as fan). If I'm not thinking of things like Performance Enhancing Drugs while watching, my entertainment isn't diminished, but if I believe that someone does have an unfair advantage over others, that will diminish my entertainment.
Good example of this is Barry Bonds. When he was at the peak of his accomplishments, it was tremendously exciting for me as fan. When it then become known with pretty much certainty that he was taking steroids during that period, it didn't retroactively change how entertaining the time was for me as a fan, but did certainly impact future entertainment provided me by Bonds... and I cared not a whit about his chasing the home run mark.
So... I think sports important. I think they especially important as something to play, but also think them important as something to be a fan of. Should you believe in them? I don't know, but do think that you should be entertained by them (and with that entertainment not the most important thing in life).
I know as fans we're not cheering for perfect members of society and some people could be cheating. However, unless the evidence is enough to pretty much remove doubt, I'd prefer to think it all fair and enjoy the achievement, spectacle and entertainment provided by it all.
Along these lines, I really liked reading and agree with the MacGregor reader he quotes as having "the second to last word on the matter"...
Before answering your question I would like to propose an alternative definition for "belief," one of which Americans have very little understanding. Our word believe actually derives from the German word beleiben. The root being leib, which means love. Believe, in its root, means to belove, not to think something is right or true, which is what we have come to think in a society that only values the head and not spirit.
Our word believe is now translated into German as glauben, which is more like to know. (This sounds a lot like our English word gullible to me, which may be a good part of this discussion of what do we trust about sports). I can't tell you what I think about what's true and what's not about sports, and I'm not certain my opinion on that point matters. I can tell you what I belove about sports though.
I belove a redemption story, even the case of Michael Vick, because no matter how much we stumble we can get a second chance. I belove the transcendence of athletes pushing each other higher and making each other better, even in the midst of competition. I belove my expectations being shattered, and I belove the camaraderie of a team. I belove what athletes can do with their bodies. I belove the joy and I belove learning about myself and society. I belove the purity of a well struck free kick, of a perfect driver down the fairway, of Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing, and the paradox of outcomes on any given sports day.
I am not always certain what to think about sports, but I belove them.
-- Peace, Ben
Solid, Ben. Just solid.