March 19, 2015

Can popularity ruin a sport?: Rafa Honigstein on how success has changed the Budesliga.

"That rise to all-conquering prominence has attracted the country’s brightest minds and developed into a highly professional, productive industry. But football’s heightened social relevance is also reflected in the sort of insufferably grim, po-faced seriousness that used to be confined to political struggles or actual tribal conflicts.

posted by yerfatma to culture at 09:06 AM - 12 comments

Regardless of your interest in football/ soccer, I found this piece really interesting because I've drifted away from sport a fair bit in the last decade or so and I can't tell how much is natural from aging and how much is the relentless focus, the constant yammering of talking heads who don't know anything and what roto sports have done to how we appreciate games.

And then there's the tribalism. I doubt it affects US sports much, but soccer pages on ESPN are full of Facebook comments much like he describes:

Due to its lower profile internationally and Germans' relatively small appetite for public debate, we have, mercifully, not yet reached the point where recently-converted VfL Wolfsburg supporters in sub-saharan Africa scour the internet for perceived slights of their club and vow to hound the offending pro-Whatever FC journalists out of their jobs. (Regular "comments section" frequenters will recognise the phenomenon: newcomers to the faith, especially those who live too far away to physically congregate with their gods and prophets, seem to feel the need to compensate for those defects by adopting a fundamentalist, 100% humour-free stance in defence of their side, while those born into the religion through parental lineage or proximity can often afford a more relaxed, ambivalent and honest relationship with the powers that be, as well as more tolerance towards non-believers).
It's as though sports exist for some people just as an outlet to yell at others.

posted by yerfatma at 09:10 AM on March 19

Great article - thanks for sharing.

You could sub a whole whack of stuff in there - politics, music, entertainment, ideology - and it holds that it is as though it exists for some people as an outlet to yell at others. Unfortunately, that shit is what enough people watch in droves and that means losing all the reasonable people in the process isn't bad for business.

I think it's always been this way on a micro scale, it just happens in today's day and age that the volume's gone from 2 to 11 and it's drowning everything else out. It used to be that your sporting experience might be marked by a couple of shows on TV, folks at the bar, the people in your stadium section, and your friends and family.

It wasn't that long ago (heck, it still happens in soccer) where yelling racial epithets, hurling batteries, talking about people's ugly wives, and chanting about people's dead mothers was part of the in-sport experience. Now it's done largely anonymously via the internet, and the volume of it is such that it dwarfs the reasonable folks out.

My last two stadium experiences - Foxboro and Yankee Stadium - left me feeling unsafe and largely disinterested in the in-game experience. We met a group of rough looking 49ers fans on the way to Foxboro who turned out to be really lovely people, but once we got in our section, my internal conflict turned out to be thinking about telling the Pats fan two rows down to stop yelling the N word at a bunch of 49er fans in the section below. He was ready for a fight, and quite honestly, it ruined the entire experience to think that I had to chose between being a coward or getting in a fight - both things I loathe. The game itself was awesome, but I had a lousy time.

The good news, at least, is the niche market for reasonable sports experience is out there. SpoFi, however small in the grand scheme of things, is a really great resources - in part because the moderation have been brilliant at discouraging the tribalism that begets hatred and anger here. Podcasts as a collective seem to do better than video, and there's a relatively robust analytical community in all sports that delights me to no end.

It's just a shame that we have not figured out how to keep the humanity in things as they scale in size. I now shy away from large music festivals, political rallies, and sports events, and find myself getting excited about obscure pro-ball games simply because there's a safety and human touch still left in the experience. It sucks to no longer be able to catch a live performance of a band or player because their audience has scaled, but I'd rather not have to deal with racism, sexism, tribalism, and violence just to enjoy something. It's not worth it.

posted by dfleming at 09:57 AM on March 19

how to keep the humanity in things as they scale in size

Yeah, there's a certain segment of folks at any event who act as though the event exists exclusively for them and they're happy to elbow you out of the way and block your view and forget about common courtesy because it's their world.

posted by yerfatma at 11:28 AM on March 19

Yeah, there's a certain segment of folks at any event who act as though the event exists exclusively for them and they're happy to elbow you out of the way and block your view and forget about common courtesy because it's their world.

I wonder, though, if mobs are representative of how many people really want to break stuff all the time or how many people would break stuff once a bunch of people already are and their own behaviour is now part of a collective. I suspect belief in the latter and it being about exponential growth is why I feel safer in smaller venues - more followers than leaders out there.

posted by dfleming at 01:41 PM on March 19

Really good article.

Rafa is one of those Germans who apologise that their English isn't so good.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 01:53 PM on March 19

Yeah, am always amazed at Rafa's grasp of English, and in particular idiomatic English, in the Football Weekly podcast. And just does not seem fair (to us native English speakers) for a non-native speaker to have written this:

Regular "comments section" frequenters will recognise the phenomenon: newcomers to the faith, especially those who live too far away to physically congregate with their gods and prophets, seem to feel the need to compensate for those defects by adopting a fundamentalist, 100% humour-free stance in defence of their side, while those born into the religion through parental lineage or proximity can often afford a more relaxed, ambivalent and honest relationship with the powers that be, as well as more tolerance towards non-believers

posted by holden at 02:51 PM on March 19

Wow, thanks for that great post, both yerfatma and Guardian. Those 6 or 7 paragraphs were more thought provoking than half a years' worth of ESPN talking heads yelling at each other. As others have noted, the point of the piece transcends soccer, particularly, of course, in America. Personally, I think it is indicative of the general trend (for whatever reason) of people feeling less and less attached to their actual existence, and needing something like sports/politics/religion/music to be right about to validate their reality.

As a case in point, during the 2012 election cycle, I tired of all of the political sniping on facebook. For diversion, I started posting musical questions along the likes of "what bands/artists were the most ahead of their time?" and "best rock n' roll voice". The amount of virtriol spewed among my cyber-friends, all of whom have at least one common reason to be polite, was breathtaking.

posted by tahoemoj at 03:34 PM on March 19

Rafa is one of those Germans who apologise that their English isn't so good.

As holden suggests, Rafa is full of crap. He reminds me of that Boston joke, "What's the difference between Pedro and Clemens? Pedro's English is better." Every time Rafa makes a funny play on words in English I feel a little stupider. Football Weekly does a nice job of collecting really smart people who happen to write about football. Then again, much like baseball, football seems to draw those people by nature.

needing something like sports/politics/religion/music to be right about to validate their reality.

Wish I could find it (and I may have already linked it here) but there was a fantastic article in The Economist earlier this year from one of their name columnists about some Western state where liberals and conservatives were fighting about issues without any real evidence on either side.

posted by yerfatma at 07:36 PM on March 19

Found it.

"He spent two years asking folk in and around Yellowstone why they are so cross. Beneath debates about science and economics he found arguments about morality and the proper relations between humans and nature though those involved often do not, or will not acknowledge this. In short, all sides purport to be weighing what is true and false, while really arguing about right and wrong."

"Lots of other countries debate such issues as the death penalty, abortion, gun control or global warming in parliament, allowing partisans to admit when they are advancing emotional or religious arguments. From its earliest days American law courts and congressional hearings have rung to the noise of impassioned partisans, hurling facts (and, all too often, confected para-facts) at one another in a bid to prove the other side wrong."

posted by yerfatma at 07:45 PM on March 19

Just happened to be watching footage of the young Christopher Hitchens on Firing Line with Wm. F'Buckley recently. Properly schooled debate club boyz with game. In front of a live studio audience that paid to sit there and hang in whilst those guys streamed it.

Mostly pre-Quayle era of American discourse. We don't venture that high up the marble mountain any longer. Not anywhere close.

posted by beaverboard at 08:09 PM on March 19

I occasionally check the comments section on sport articles and like Rafa and most of you guys, get disillusioned with humanity. However, on The Guardian I am always cheerier when checking reports from matches in the Championship. In the second tier, fans tend to be far more polite and frequently praise the opposition on the day, even after a sound defeat. It may have something to do with being a fan for longer, and understanding that in the long run, today's rooster is tomorrow's feather duster.

/Yes, I've even seen Derby fans praise F****t, and vice-versa. It's a parallel universe.

posted by owlhouse at 11:09 PM on March 19

Feels related: Does Sport Make Us Happy?

posted by yerfatma at 08:17 AM on March 23

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