In his rant, Hitchens derides international sports for (apparently) breeding conflict and contempt around the world. Hitchens also rails against how sports dumbs down contemporary society and political discourse:
Our own political discourse, already emaciated enough, has been further degraded by the continuous importation of sports "metaphors": lame and vapid and cheery expressions like "bottom of the ninth," "goal line," and who knows what other tripe.
Hard enough on the eyes and ears as this is—and there are some cartoonists who can't seem to draw without it—it also increases the deplorable tendency to look at the party system as a matter of team loyalty, which is the most trivial and parochial form that attachment can take.
Oh, and don't forget about how it affects newspapers (which we all know are a thriving institution):
I can't count the number of times that I have picked up the newspaper at a time of crisis and found whole swaths of the front page given over either to the already known result of some other dull game or to the moral or criminal depredations of some overpaid steroid swallower.
Listen: the paper has a whole separate section devoted to people who want to degrade the act of reading by staring enthusiastically at the outcomes of sporting events that occurred the previous day. These avid consumers also have tons of dedicated channels and publications that are lovingly contoured to their special needs. All I ask is that they keep out of the grown-up parts of the paper.
Well. It's good to know that I am considered a boob and an imbecile because I enjoy watching sports.
Heaven forbid I do nothing but wring my hands about the events of the day.
Look, when I turn on the local news and hear about random murders taking place in my fair city, and that I could lose my job because the school I work for could be closed to try and help stave off a $1 billion deficit in the state, and that the mayor of the city is irrationally insulted because the president slighted our fair city by telling people to not blow their life savings here, guess what?
I want to watch a basketball game to take my mind off of things.
But the notion that sports fosters international conflicts? The absolutely ludicrous notion that it's sports metaphors that have fostered the dumbing down of political discourse in this country?
You, sir, have got to be kidding me.
Do some folks around the world care too much about sports? Absolutely. Look at the man who was killed after the 1994 World Cup for scoring an "own goal" (accidentally scoring a goal against his own team).
Look that the treatment of Steve Bartman, a Chicago Cubs fan who was basically sent to exile because of a mistake he made during the 2003 playoffs.
Look at the countless cases of hooliganism that have taken place in the U.K. because of soccer matches.
Look at the students at Mississippi State University and West Virginia University the last couple of weeks, as these college students have thrown things onto the court during the games.
I will not deny that these acts occur.
But look at the tale told by the recent Oscar nominated movie Invictus.
Look at what the run to the 2001 World Series by my baseball team, the New York Yankees, did to help my hometown forget about the terrible tragedy that occurred.
Heck, I would encourage Hitchens to look no further than New Orleans for an example of how sports can heal a community that has suffered a horrible tragedy.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina stuck the Big Easy. The first professional franchise in the city, the New Orleans Saints, had to leave town and became a vagabond franchise. There was talk of the team permanently relocating to San Antonio because there was no way to know if New Orleans was ever going to be rebuilt.
But the NFL was committed to the Saints returning to New Orleans (and the NBA did the same with the Hornets).
The Saints returned to the Superdome on September 25, 2006. Less than 90 seconds into the game, this happened:
The game was essentially over at that point.
Four years later, the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Now, the citizens of New Orleans realize that things are not better just because the Saints are winners. Parts of the city still have not been rebuilt and may never be rebuilt.
But the Saints offer them a chance to spend some time not worrying about how things are. It's an escape, and the win also triggers some civic pride.
That's the power of what sports can do.
The games do sometimes need to be placed in their proper context, Mr. Hitchens, but don't dismiss sports as a simple opiate of the masses.
In order to keep life in balance, we need the not so serious stuff.