Americans are Taking Their Eyes Off the Ball

Each weekend, thousands of people pack stadiums to watch sporting events like hockey games and NASCAR races. But barely a dozen residents will attend their local borough meeting once a month.

Some baseball fans can rattle off Mickey Mantle’s batting average from 1951 to 1968, but they can’t tell you how their state representative voted a week earlier. It seems as though a lot of Americans are more interested in touchdowns and home runs than Supreme Court decisions and foreign policy.

Sports fans reserve weekends for drinking beers and licking chicken wing sauce off their fingers while they watch a game in the man cave or a local bar. But nobody gets a pizza and a case of Schlitz to watch the State of the Union Address.

Understandably, it’s more fun to paint your face with team colors and dress up like mascots than politicians who wear bland suits with snazzy ties. But the level of hero worship for athletes who are paid multi-million dollar salaries to chase around a ball seems ridiculous, considering that the outcome of a game has no bearing on fans’ lives. They see no financial gains if the Steelers beat the Browns (unless they place an illegal bet). They don’t get affordable healthcare or a scholarship to Penn State if the Nittany Lions beat Michigan. But you’d swear that their livelihood teeters on winning the game by the way they cheer and scream at the television.

NASCAR-auto-racing-558089_1280Then there’s the die-hard fans who get so personally immersed in sports that they insert themselves onto the team, saying things like “We need to run a pass play on third down,” as if they were the coach. Like they have a say in how the team operates?! To diehard fans, winning the Super Bowl is like celebrating the birth of a child, and losing it is like mourning the death of a beloved family member. Keep in mind that fan is an abbreviation of fanatic.

Meanwhile, Congress passes legislation that hinders our privacy and creates loopholes for corporations, with barely anyone caring. Scott Norwood has never been able to live down missing that field goal in the 1991 Super Bowl, but people easily forgive and forget each time a congressman cheats on their spouse, cheats on their taxes, and gets arrested for driving while intoxicated.

Politics does get a lot of coverage with 24-hour news networks, as well as local broadcasts, syndicated radio talk shows, and publications (like the Independent Gazette). There is a segment of the population that is interested in the political process. But unfortunately, passing an education bill doesn’t give people the same adrenaline rush as a pass intercepted at the goal line, so therefore, interest wanes.

Has anyone ever fantasized about running down an aisle to cast a vote in the U.S. Senate?

Some people are passive when it comes to politics, but they will rip your arm out of its socket if you insinuate that Joe Paterno helped cover up the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Sports fans will riot after their team loses . . . or wins; it actually doesn’t matter anymore. Destroying a team’s hometown after a championship game is a social norm now. But when taxes are raised or an unfair ordinance is passed, citizens sit in their recliners, shrug their shoulders and say, “Eh, whatta ya gonna do . . . hey, is the Phillies game on yet?”

Politics is already a game, so let’s make it official.
Kids don’t want to grow up to be Congressmen, they want to be superstar athletes. A lot of kids fantasize about taking that winning shot at the buzzer, commentating their every move. “Byers gets the pass from Magic, dribbles past McHale, 3 . . . 2 . . . he shoots a skyhook . . . and it’s in! Jim Byers wins the game for the Los Angeles Lakers! The crowd goes wild! It’s a Cinderella story.”

Has anyone ever fantasized about running down an aisle to cast a vote in the U.S. Senate? There’s no glory, no drama, no girls waiting in the wings to congratulate you with a kiss. How would that daydream even go? “Byers jukes past Chuck Schumer, he hurdles Dennis Kucinich, now Strom Thurmond is the only thing standing in Jim’s way . . . oooh! Byers knocks Thurmond head-over-heels to the floor with a bone-crushing blow, 3 . . . 2 . . . and Jim Byers casts the deciding vote to repeal NAFTA. It didn’t seem like Jim was going to cast that vote in time until he mowed down 100-year-old Strom Thurmond. Let’s replay that devastating shot in slow motion.”

Maybe that’s it — politics needs more action to grab our attention.

Instead of polite, congenial debates, candidates should wrestle, like on WWE Smackdown, clubbing each other with metal chairs and bashing heads into turnbuckles. And give fevered pre-match interviews with Mean Gene Okerlund. Could you imagine Carl Levin strutting down the aisle to “Eye of the Tiger” then ripping off his shirt to reveal his well-oiled potbelly and man boobs? Ew. Maybe wrestling isn’t the right way to decide public policy.

Citizen-lobbyists entering the Pennsylvania Capitol, June 2014/Gazette

Citizen-lobbyists entering the Pennsylvania Capitol, June 2014/Gazette

Perhaps basketball is a better proposal: Democrats vs. Republicans, with the winners passing or rejecting bills. Image the crowd’s roar when Lou Barletta stuffs Nancy Pelosi as she drives the lane for a layup. Kids would trade in their LeBron James jerseys for a Barletta shirt in no time.

Or if we opted for football, ESPN’s Chris Berman would have a field day barking nicknames like “Bobby Jingle Jangle Jindal.” “Hedley Lamar Alexander is blazing toward Capitol Hill rumblin’, bumblin’, stumbin’.” And finally,“Ted Carnival Cruz sets sail for a town hall meeting in Des Moine . . . oh, if his friends could see him now.” Etcetera.

Maybe C-SPAN could hire John Madden and Al Michaels to commentate filibusters and house votes. If Madden can make a Jets game seem exciting just imagine what he could do for Congress.

The best part of “political games” is that it would assure term limits because there’s no way Harry Reid could play more than a season.

Hate the players and the game.
The reality is that sports are a distraction and politicians know it and they love it. They would rather you question whether Pete Rose deserves to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame than why we sent troops to fight overseas. They would rather that we spend countless hours sitting on the couch watching games than watching legislative votes being cast on C-SPAN. When championship teams visit the White House they not only get their picture taken with the President, they get a veiled “thank-you” . . . thank you for diverting America’s attention away from the sinister, conniving, hypocritical, wasteful, underhanded, unconstitutional things that we do.

Maybe C-SPAN could hire John Madden and Al Michaels to commentate filibusters and house votes.

Some historians theorize that the fall of the Roman Empire resulted from the public’s obsession with gladiator games while they ignored the deterioration of their country and reputation abroad. America is doing exactly the same thing. One powerful object of proof is that people will stand in line for hours — sometimes overnight — to get tickets to a game, a concert, a movie, or Christmas bargains, but they won’t spend 15 minutes waiting for their turn to vote in elections.

Earlier in our nation’s history, Americans would riot over unfair wages, laws, and taxes, marching right up to the gates with pitchforks and torches at a moment’s notice. Now, we organize awareness walks on Saturday afternoons with pretty lapel ribbons when government officials aren’t even in their offices to face the dissidence and demands of protesters. And the crowds aren’t even that large because most people stay home to watch a game.

Americans need to let their politicians know how much they hate the game. The people need to take note and remember how their representatives have voted as well as their behavior in and outside of office and then vote accordingly. People need to question the government at every level at every opportunity, including town hall meetings, municipal meetings, on the streets, at public events, etc. Keep the pressure on them and never let up. The suggestion to write and call your congressman is all well and good, but they will never personally answer the telephone, a letter, or an email — that’s their assistant’s job. Politicians chose to run for public office so they are never officially off the clock and we have the right and duty to question them wherever and whenever — they are public servants who work on our behalf and on our dime.

Americans need to stop watching athletes play games and pay more attention to the politicians who are doing touchdown dances every time they pass a bill that helps them and their cronies win while the loyal, law-abiding citizenry loses.

  • Jim Byers
  • Jim Byers has worked as a reporter for regional newspaper papers as well as in public relations. He's earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Bloomsburg University and an associate's degree in political science from Luzerne County Community College.

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