Sports: Just a distraction from things that matter?

Now there are other media too whose basic social role is quite different: it’s diversion. There’s the real mass media–the kinds that are aimed at, you know, Joe Six Pack–that kind. The purpose of those media is just to dull people’s brains.

This is an oversimplification, but for the eighty percent or whatever they are, the main thing is to divert them. To get them to watch National Football League…. Just get them away. Get them away from things that matter. And for that, it’s important to reduce their capacity to think.

Take, say, sports–that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it–you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. That keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in–they have the most exotic information and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any–it doesn’t make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements–in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.

– Noam Chomsky

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4 thoughts on “Sports: Just a distraction from things that matter?

  1. I go back and forth on this, actually. I see where Chomsky is coming from, absolutely. But Dave Zirin makes some good points in his work. He is the sports writer for The Nation, and tweets at @EdgeOfSports.

    Sports can surely provide us with many opportunities to engage people who might otherwise shy away from political discussions. We shouldn’t just write it off and then send the message to working class sports fans that we’re not like them, don’t care about the things that they enjoy, look down on them, etc.

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