February 08, 2010

Christopher Hitchens: Sports Bring Out the Worst in Humanity: "Whether it's the exacerbation of national rivalries that you want -- as in Africa this year -- or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars' homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples," writes Christopher Hitchens. "As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay The Sporting Spirit, after yet another outbreak of combined mayhem and chauvinism on the international soccer field, "sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will."

posted by rcade to general at 05:54 PM - 34 comments

Hitchens must have had money on the Colts.

posted by owlhouse at 06:24 PM on February 08

The article is an instant classic on the basis of that lead photo alone:

It's also hard to dislike this shot, particularly after reading the caption:

At the 1980 summer Games, Polish pole vaulter Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz made a rude gesture to the Moscow crowd after setting a new world record. The image shot around the world and to many, signified Polish resentment of Russia's control over Eastern Europe.

Moral of the story: I only look at the pictures.

posted by dusted at 06:35 PM on February 08

To be fair, what does Hitchens actually like, aside from atheism?

posted by brainofdtrain at 06:44 PM on February 08

Oh man, now I LOVE the Polish pole vaulter photo. From Wikipedia:

In Poland, the Bras d'honneur became known as the "Kozakiewicz's gesture" (gest Kozakiewicza). Kozakiewicz made the gesture on July 30, 1980 to Russian spectators in the stadium during the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The crowd supporting Soviet jumper Konstantin Volkov booed, hissed, jeered, and whistled during Kozakiewicz's spectacular performance. Having just secured his gold medal position, Kozakiewicz made the gesture in defiance to the Soviet crowd. He later confirmed his dominance over the competition by breaking the world record, clearing at 5.78 meters.

The photos of this incident circled the globe, with the exception of the Soviet Union and its satellites. While international observers varied in their reaction to the incident, Kozakiewicz's act received much support in Polish society, which resented Soviet control over Eastern Europe. After the 1980 Olympics ended, the Soviet ambassador to Poland demanded that Kozakiewicz be stripped of his medal over his "insult to the Soviet people". The official response of the Polish government was that the gesture had been an involuntary muscle spasm caused by his exertion.

posted by dusted at 06:54 PM on February 08

To be fair, what does Hitchens actually like, aside from atheism?

teh booz
and ceiling cat watching him masturbate.

posted by NoMich at 06:59 PM on February 08

Oh shut up Hitchens you big fucking goof.

Sport = Awesome 
Hitchens = Dick

Any questions?

posted by Drood at 07:44 PM on February 08

Wow. I'm normally a huge fan of Hitchens, and what he has to say is regularly well thought out and brilliantly written. Whether or not you agree with his stance on religion or politics, he normally comes across as thoughtful and well-read. This piece was a steaming pile of cynical drivel that does nothing more than make it clear to me that Hitchens was picked on as a child by the local football or cricket hero.

I find myself disturbed by this essay; to me it hugely undermines his credibility as a thinker. To fail to see the positive aspects of sport to the extent that you feel privileged to mock those who take joy in watching the truly gifted is small-minded and petty. And to place blame for international animosity on the events where underlying issues manifest themselves is an argument that is, at best, disingenuous. I wish Hitchens would reserve his smug condescension for causes he's more suited to deal with, like the religious right or Islamic extremists. He obviously is blind to the virtue of sport, which is fine. But that doesn't make those of us who enjoy it buffoons.

Or...what Drood said

posted by tahoemoj at 07:57 PM on February 08

Hitchens is bright, he's thoughtful, and he's become accustomed to having people pay attention to him when he speaks in that authoritative voice of his.

This isn't the first time he's been wrong on something. I think he thinks that he can argue any point of discussion from any angle and make a convincing case of it due to his intellect and expressive skills.

I don't like how sure he always is that he's 100% right about something. Lot of arrogance there.

It's the "I will speak and they have to listen, because it's ME speaking" syndrome. Many luminaries have fallen victim to it. Hunter Thompson for one.

The corollary to that syndrome is: "this topic is now truly important, because I have chosen to address it".

If Hitchens were to spend a weekend as a guest at Tom Bodett's hunting cabin, that would definitely help.

posted by beaverboard at 08:34 PM on February 08

If Hitchens were to spend a weekend as a guest at Tom Bodett's hunting cabin, that would definitely help.

Awesome line.

Hitchens makes some valid points, and one only needs to look at the cases of Little League parents becoming violent over little Billy's playing time to understand that sports can bring out the worst in people. He just goes a bit long.

posted by dviking at 10:55 PM on February 08

I think he thinks that he can argue any point of discussion from any angle and make a convincing case of it due to his intellect and expressive skills.

Hitchens is erudite (in a somewhat shallow fashion), hugely productive, and generally good entertainment value, but like many British writers of that ilk who settle in the US, his capacity for bullshit thrives in an environment where the audience is insufficiently willing to tell him to shut the fuck up and go home.

to me it hugely undermines his credibility as a thinker

Recalling F.R. Leavis: Hitchens belongs not to the history of publicity, not thinking.

posted by etagloh at 11:16 PM on February 08

I disagree that he's not a thinker. Hitchens is capable of exceptional brilliance.

I used to read him regularly in The Nation, where he was the best columnist they had for many years. This commentary on sports seems as phoned in as that tasteless "you've left the yard" piece by Mark Whicker. Normally his work is animated by more intelligence and passion than this tripe.

This is a guy who had himself waterboarded to write about the subject. I don't get the impression that knows anything at all about sports aside from the fact that their fans interfere with his drinking at pubs.

posted by rcade at 11:49 PM on February 08

Someone with a soap box should write a rebuttal and point out all that is GREAT in sports.

In fact that's an idea for Sports Filter. An area where we can pick our favourite sporting moments.

posted by Drood at 12:40 AM on February 09

An area where we can pick our favourite sporting moments.

I believe that would be our profile pages.

posted by BoKnows at 12:42 AM on February 09

To borrow Stephen Fry's line about something else entirely: "Arse gravy. Loose stool water of the highest order."

He doesn't know enough about sport to muster that level of vehemence sincerely, which makes the whole thing sound affected. Which it is. Tripe. Lazy, phoned-in tripe at that.

posted by JJ at 06:05 AM on February 09

I knew Hitchens back in the day. He's always hated sports, and was appalled when I watched an NBA game on his TV (though he didn't interfere). But for him of all people to rail against nationalism and chauvinism, given his recent love for imperial war, is pretty rich. He's now an American exceptionalist. In his world, cluster bombing poor brown people is less worrisome than Gilbert Arenas' gun fetish. Standard Beltway hypocrisy.

posted by afl-aba at 07:17 AM on February 09

I think we need to know more about how you knew Hitchens. He's high on the list of people worth getting drunk with just so you can hear his fiery ruminations on politics until he passes out.

posted by rcade at 10:03 AM on February 09

It just seems like his perceptions stalled out short of full realization. Of course sports can bring out the worst in people and often do. They can also, however, bring out the best in people and seem to do so just as often. He conveniently forgets about any examples of the compassionate side of humanity manifesting itself through sport.

He also seems to be trying to clear a logical Snake River Canyon by saying that the Michael Vick and Tiger Woods scandals were the result of the sports they play. Just because they made money playing a game which provided the opportunity for certain behaviors doesn't make the game to blame. To say that golf brought out the worst in Tiger Woods is ridiculous.

We all know that poor innocent Tiger was seduced by the evil devourers of souls that god put on earth to tempt us into transgression.

posted by tahoemoj at 10:10 AM on February 09

Eh. Never mind Hitchens; take a read of Ryszard Kapuscinski's "The Soccer War".

posted by lil_brown_bat at 10:36 AM on February 09

Count me in the group that doesn't know how to feel about Hitchens. He's one of those people who's wonderfully entertaining when he's on your side, but the problem is he's such a wild card and contrarian that sooner or later he's going to piss you off. His was one of the first columns I turned to when I used to subscribe to The Atlantic and I'll always stop if I surf by him on television, but the more I see him, the more I don't care for him. He's so obsessed with tearing apart sacred cows that he seems to believe anything people care about is based on hypocrisy and falsehood. He'd punch a little girl running a lemonade stand for being cloying and clichéd.

posted by yerfatma at 11:48 AM on February 09

Yes, yes, yes. And love brings out the worst in humanity, as does business, and friendship, and music, and basically anything that encourages human being to interact with each other. Disasters, too, bring out the worst in humanity.

And to think, if I'd just picked him to be on my kickball team once in third grade, this never would have been written.

posted by Joey Michaels at 12:49 PM on February 09

Wait. Newsweek is still around? Go figure . . .

posted by geekyguy at 02:27 PM on February 09

Well, Hitchens doesn't seem to know much about sports. That much I gather.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:22 PM on February 09

Wayne Frazer: Humanity Brings Out The Worst In Christopher Hitchens

posted by wfrazerjr at 09:43 AM on February 10

Wait.... Hitchens LOVES war. Hitch never met a cluster bomb he didn't like.

Sports, after a fashion, is simulated war. Sports is basically combat with rules.

Sports, like war, has the ability to bring out the best and worst in people. You have your heroes who selflessly kill 27 people to help their side breach the line or rescue a fellow soldier, and you have your villains who ruthlessly kill 27 people to help the other side or free a prisoner who deserved to be shot.

Hitchens is an ass. Even when I do agree with what he's saying, I can't support the way he's saying it. As an atheist myself, I found his anti-god screed to be riddled with errors and logical fallacies and more than that: It was just plain poor taste. Somehow, this does not interfere with his ardent support for Israel as a de facto theocracy. He denounces religion as tribalism, but yet, has no problem with tribalism in Greece, so long as they're not invoking God to do it.

He's little more than a bomb thrower, and people moronically say "Yes, but the bomb was made extremely well! Look at the craftsmanship!" He's all for personal freedom so long as you don't decide to use that freedom to do something he doesn't like. He's also a Trotskyite... How does socialism/communism equate to personal freedom? How does he reconcile saying he's for personal freedom and then in the same breath declare we should ban the Burqua? You're free so long as you don't wear an outfit I don't like? You're free to do anything but be a Muslim?

If Hitchens is as intelligent as his supporters claim, then he should be intelligent enough to see the contradictions in his own thinking and be somewhat consistent in his views. Frankly, I think he's an idiot with a large vocabulary who relies on intellectual intimidation. Go behind the curtain and the great Oz is just a small man with a big megaphone.

posted by LostInDaJungle at 12:07 PM on February 10

He's also a Trotskyite... How does socialism/communism equate to personal freedom?

I think you'll find that was a while ago.

Regarding the recent books on atheism by various authors, I recommended them to my son on this basis:

Richard Dawkins - he's a bit like your mad uncle, with the unkempt hair, who sits in the old lounge chair, raves a bit and gets uppity a lot.

Stephen Jay Gould - he's like your kindly old grandad, who gets you to come out into the garden and look at a really cool bug.

Christopher Hitchens - he's your smart arse older brother home from college, the one who did Philosophy 101 and likes showing off.

posted by owlhouse at 03:26 PM on February 10

And Sam Harris?

posted by tahoemoj at 03:37 PM on February 10

He's the other uncle. The pederast.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 06:00 PM on February 10

LostInDaJungle at 12:07 PM on February 10

Somehow, this does not interfere with his ardent support for Israel...

You're free to do anything but be a Muslim?

This site is supposed to be about sports. Might not you have a transparent political agenda of the antizionist persuasion, that overwhelms even your avid athletic interests?

posted by trueblueroo at 09:25 AM on February 11

Clearly, based on his other comment, "As an atheist myself, I found his anti-god screed to be riddled with errors and logical fallacies and more than that". Obviously he's just commenting here to corrupt our youth.

posted by yerfatma at 11:46 AM on February 11

This site is supposed to be about sports.

What were you expecting to find in a discussion about Christopher Hitchens?

posted by rcade at 12:07 PM on February 11

Some nasty trolling from Mother Theresa.

posted by yerfatma at 01:58 PM on February 11

That would be ghost trolling...

posted by yzelda4045 at 04:06 PM on February 11


posted by owlhouse at 05:54 PM on February 11

I thought I saw her throw a block on the Saints onside kick recovery. Might be the trifecta right here.

posted by yerfatma at 06:01 PM on February 11

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