Gnomicon 119

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  119
Wednesday 5 September 2012

Read gnomica 1-100 here!

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Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play.
It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules,
and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence:
in other words it is war minus the shooting.
George Orwell (25 Jun 1903 – 21 Jan 1950)

Book 23 of the Iliad sings of the funeral games held in honor of Patroklos, Achilles’ great friend.  At the end of this long poem from the eighth century BCE, these games — these ludic competitions for prizes at a funeral portrayed in a single book — takes a revisionist look at the lethal competitions for lives in a war portrayed in the previous 22 books.  They are, in Orwell’ memorable phrase, “war minus the shooting.”  A point that Homer in my view is making is that competitions do not have to involve death and dying but may instead feature honor!

I believe Orwell, then, he of 1984, was making a related point – if a more overtly condemnatory one — in the same general arena (I myself drew a vague parallel between the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome and modern football – here and here).  Orwell was certainly no fan of war, as he most notably showed in his Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences of harsh humanity during the brutal civil war that wrenched Spain in the late thirties (1936-1939) – and, just incidentally, was responsible for my being born in Tangier in Africa rather than in Málaga in Spain.

It is no secret that I am not wildly enthusiastic about sports, and especially so about football.  But, I am perhaps not inclined to go as far as Orwell in his categorical condemnation of ‘serious sport’.  It probably depends on how you define ‘serious sport’.  If by that is meant a sport that generates ‘serious’ money (which, even comparatively, I doubt that it did back in his day before television got involved), then some of what he observes may well be true.  Thus, the Penn State case of recent infamy certainly suggests something about a state of mind that accommodates itself to “disregard of all rules” and wants little indeed “to do with fair play”.  And one does read about and hear (on TV) the odd ‘confession’ by some player or staffer to the effect that one’s competitors should be hurt so as not to be able to continue playing (remember the bellicose sportsmanship of that defensive coördinator for the New Orleans Saints of a few months back?).  That certainly lends a kind of credibility to Orwell’s comments, and I’d guess that in all of football (high school, college, pros) this one single coach was not the only one who ever urged similar tactics.

Another popular sport that generates big money is ice hockey, and there, surely one of the points is to “hurt” an opponent.  At least that is what I have sort of picked up from desultory interlinear readings in the entertainment venues – and if I traduce an honorable sport and its actors, I offer unconditional and immediate apology.

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