Did you feel joy, or merely relief, when your team won this weekend? (Cleveland fans, you are excused). If you were mostly relieved, you have forgotten that sports are supposed to be fun, and you probably have an idol. I know there are more dangerous issues in our world—the refugee crisis, ISIS, Donald Trump—but that’s the point. Our culture cares way too much about the final score of a football game, and its idolatry is killing the sport.
How did Ohio State, with six first round draft picks on the field on Saturday, attempt a downfield pass exactly twice? Midway through the third quarter Kirk Herbstreit pointed out that both teams were playing not to lose. Both were afraid of making a mistake that would give the game to the other side. And so the game turned into a boring puntfest.
The underlying problem may be that coaches are paid millions of dollars to win games, which makes them afraid to lose games. MSU coach Mark Dantonio conceded as much in his onfield interview after the game when he said “It’s good to be the chaser rather than the chased.” He knows this by experience. Two weeks before in Nebraska he gave back a game his team had all but won by trying to run time off the clock rather than go for a victory-sealing first down.
Idols always kill their worshipers, so it’s fitting that those who sacrifice “sports should be fun” on the altar of “sports must be won” end up losing the games they were terrified of not winning. Idols don’t even give that much joy when they’re won. Both Dantonio and OSU coach Urban Meyer look rather glum after victories—more relieved than happy for the victory.
Sports would be more fun if all involved remembered they are entertainers. The Golden State Warriors seem to get this—they are fun to watch and surprise, they seem to win a lot too. Most teams aren’t going to win much, but every team should be entertaining. It’s not a crime to lose, but it may be a sin to lose in the most boring way possible (see the Cleveland Browns).
This weekend the Buckeyes play Michigan in The Game. I want the Buckeyes to win, but even more, I want them to make it fun. Try a forward pass, maybe a trick play—remember that you’re in the entertainment business. Don’t play not to lose. Play to win the game. Have fun, and we’ll enjoy watching.
One more thing. Michigan, you are a beautiful state. Too bad you’re the fourth, maybe fifth best team in the Big Ten. Good luck in the Meineke Muffler Bowl.
Photo by Scott Stuart via Flickr. Used by permission.