I watched the Rose Bowl yesterday, or as much of it as I could, because Ohio State University was in the game. I was an undergrad at OSU in the 60s, so I thought I had some sort of obligation to participate in the festivities. I watch almost no sports on tv whatsoever, but I made an exception for this one. I actually lettered for three years in tennis at OSU, so when they won the game, I guess my status ticked up a notch. I still have the scarlet and gray jacket to prove that I'm not just anti-sports.
But I was thinking about what I saw before and during the game. It is all very curious to me. We typically play the National Anthem before most high school, college, and professional sports. How did this custom ever come to be? What does this nationalistic/quasi-militaristic song have to do with sports? At about that same time yesterday in Pasadena, four military jets did a fly-over past the stadium, adding to the battlefield aura of the entire spectacle. (By the way, do the taxpayers pay for this flight time?)
And then, military veterans were prominent during the ceremonies, with the Wounded Warrior representatives in attendance. It reminded me of stories you hear about the early days of the Civil War, only in reverse. Apparently, citizens from the nearby town would come out with their picnic lunches to watch a real battle between the North and South from a hill overlooking the battlefield. Pass me a watercress sandwich, please. But now, real soldiers come out to watch civilians battle it out on the gridiron. (In fact, they kept referring to the game between Oregon State and University of Oregon to decide which team went to the Rose Bowl as a "civil war".) Can it be that combat with an opposing force is so ingrained in our genetic code that we have to reenact a facsimile of it over and over again?
Religion is even incorporated into the pageantry of these sporting events. Each team, or many members of each team, usually pray to their god just before the game starts. I assume they are praying for victory over the other team. In the case of OSU and University of Oregon, I have to assume that they are each praying to the same god. Now, I don’t believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful god for one minute, but apparently these players do. Therefore, I find this pre-game prayer the most pretentious and selfish behavior I have ever seen. There are tens of millions of people on this planet struggling for survival every day of their lives, millions of babies starving to death each year, and millions more suffering from malaria, dysentery, tuberculosis, and water-borne parasitic diseases. If this god had the power to grant you the winning of a football game while he/she/it allows all this human suffering on earth, I would have to conclude that this deity was pretty sadistic.
I don’t really want to begin the new year by bashing an activity as American as a college football game. But the behaviors which humans display are not just some random actions that have no meaning or history. They all come from some place and they had, or still have, significance for us. We may have forgotten from whence they came, so this essay is simply a reminder to ponder what we see and hear. As I’ve said many times, human behavior is about as interesting as it gets. It ranks right up there with bobolinks.