The Unexamined Game Is Not Worth Watching
Toward a philosophy of viewing sports on television.
As an achiever, I constantly look for new techniques of achievement and seek to minimize behaviors with low achievement yield. Thus it is only natural that I have begun to worry about the amount of time I spend watching sports on television--an activity that does not measurably advance any of my personal or professional agendas.
Most alarmingly, sports have become a steel curtain between me and my family. My wife and three daughters shun me when I turn on a ballgame. Occasionally I try to "relate" to the kids by asking them to fetch Daddy a beer, but I sense that they are drifting away--that I have become, for them, every bit as useless, burdensome, and low-yielding in immediate practical utility as they are for me.
I realized that something had to change. I needed to take firm, decisive action.
And so I made a solemn vow: I would teach my wife and kids to watch sports with me.
Yes, I would! And something more: I would become a better, more sophisticated, more deeply engaged viewer of TV sports. I would become a man for whom sports viewership is not just a bad habit, but a skill.
I have sought counsel from experts and engaged in rigorous tests in my own home. What follows are some simple precepts for Next Level sports viewership.
The very first thing you must do, before we get into any actual viewing techniques, is ask yourself why sports are an important part of your life. Why do sports matter? Do you like sports because they show that effort, practice, and innovation lead to positive results? Because sports are an outlet for our primitive barbarian hostilities? Because in sports we discover a dramatic metaphor for our desire to move into new terrain and reach goals that can be statistically measured? The answer to all these questions is: Don't be stupid. You watch sports for the simple reason that sports don't matter a jot. You like sports precisely because of their utter insignificance. You find this relaxing. Always remember the pre-eminent rule of the sports junkie:
1. Don't start thinking like George Will.
Next, you must configure your viewing area. For help in this regard I called Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films Inc., the company that produces Inside the NFL for HBO. Sabol, I knew, watches a heroic amount of football, from which he gleans the highlights for his films. NFL Films has a signature style: Sweaty, grunting, muddy men move in super slow motion while the baritone narrator describes the events as though the fate of nations hung in the balance. Sabol, a former college football player, says, "That's the way I wanted to show the game, with the snot spraying, the sweat flying. Football is a very visceral sport. Before we started it was always filmed from the top, and it looked like a little chess set."
His viewing procedures are quite advanced. Every Sunday he watches three games at once. "I have a little cockpit that's built in my den. There's one set, the predominant game, that's on a 30-inch TV, and I have two 19-inch TVs that are slanted inward. So it's like a cockpit. You have to have good peripheral vision and you have to really concentrate."
Joel Achenbach is a reporter for the Washington Post and the author of the new book, A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher.
Illustrations by Hillel Halkin.