A Shallow Understanding of Sport

Since I am such a lover of sport, I have been surprised this week by the lack of sensitivity displayed in multiple sport stories. No, I am not talking about the political correctness type of sensitivity but the fine tuning required for common sense and intelligence.

Les spectateurs de bicyclette sont stupides

Consider, for example, the Tour de France. I have one friend who is an avid follower of the event, who shrugs at basketball and disdains football, but whose eyes lit up last week describing the day when the riders went over massive amounts of cobblestones. Perusing last night’s updates with my friend in mind, imagine my surprise at googling “Tour de France” and seeing that the top suggested pairing included “tear gas.”

Pepper spray at Tour de France protest
Pepper spray and tear gas at the Tour de France due to a farmer protest, photo by The Boxing Observer

Apparently, farmers protest the Tour de France on a regular basis because they want more European Union funding. (Maybe they can talk to U.S. farmers about getting funding by having their president impose crushing tariffs against farmed goods as a way of shaking loose more funding…but I digress). The French farmers in the Aude department blocked the rider’s route with tractors and bales of hay, prompting the gendarmes to break out the pepper spray. And it was windy. The event was halted for several minutes as riders had to lavishly employ eye wash.

I was further appalled to read that the riders also regularly get jostled, pushed, or groped by spectators–one had a mishap involving entanglement with a camera strap. Also, that the French fans, notorious for their umbrage at any non-French rider with a winning record, have been regularly spitting and throwing things at Chris Froome. To say nothing of the children and pets which stray on to the roads so frequently that the Tour had to put out a spectator Twitter video reminding fans of basic common sense.

Did Rugby Organizers get Hit in the Head?

New Zealand rugby at AT&T park
The New Zealand rugby team, emotional in winning the 2018 world cup, at iconic San Francisco AT&T park, photo by Getty images

The Rugby Sevens World Cup was played in my own backyard this past weekend, at glorious AT&T park. New Zealand dominated on both the men’s and women’s sides, though I had hoped for a breakout by the American women and the Fijian men (both came in a respectable fourth).  The All Blacks play with elegance and efficiency, a tough and speedy combination–kind of like the Golden State Warriors, New York Yankees, and New England Patriots all rolled into one.

According to press accounts, the event was well attended (for a rugby tournament held in the U.S. where the U.S. wasn’t favored) and the fans did seem knowledgeable and enthusiastic. There were plenty of Fijians blue wigs and shirtless men painted with country colors.

Yet, I read in The New York Times that the event may not break even because U.S.A. Rugby’s bid didn’t properly factor in the cost of housing, transportation, and practice venues for the event.  In San Francisco.  Which is so expensive that gentrification has spread outside the city to nearby Oakland and Berkeley. Where the median housing price is $820,000 (it’s $1.2 million in the city proper). Where gas is $4.00 a gallon, at the cheapest stations ($4.50 in the city).

I’d like to see rugby get more press. After all, my alma mater and local university–Cal– is THE dominant men’s rugby college in the U.S. The sport combines the constant action of soccer, the high scoring of basketball, and team strength and individual flash of football. Curiously, the women’s teams seemed to exhibit more defense and ground game strategies where, on the men’s side, the sudden acceleration of a Perry Baker or Sione Molia ripped the defenders to shreds. I’m such a novice at the sport that my observation is likely naive and superficial, but, come on, ESPN! Show more rugby, and educate me on the error of my ways. But I can’t watch if national organizers can’t figure out how to make it a go, even when attendance breaks records.

New Zealand women's rugby, world cup winners
New Zealand’s Portia Woodman speeds by French defenders, with AT&T Park’s Triples Alley in the background, photo from pulse-static-files

Just in case No One Saw my Drug Violation, I’ll Post it on Instagram

But stupidity is also not limited to fans or organizers. Athletes sometimes get into the mix. One, in particular, has to be close to some sort of record for making poor choices. Of course, I’m talking about Ryan Lochte.

Lochte was back in the news recently. He had just finished serving his 10-month suspension for the appalling idiocy at the Rio Olympics of vandalizing a gas station, then lying about it and claiming a false arrest. He says he’d like to swim in Tokyo 2020 which probably involves qualifying next year, a difficult task if you aren’t swimming.

As he prepared for this week’s national swim championships, he was handed another 14-month suspension. In May, he was caught on camera hooked to an IV. The substances (vitamins supposedly) were not banned, but athlete rules prohibit using IVs unless related to a hospital stay or with a pre-approved exemption. He claimed that illness in his family caused him to hook up to an IV as a precautionary gesture. Because if people around me are sick, I naturally think first of using an IV as a preventative measure. And then I next think of posting the picture on Instagram.

I, for one, hope that this really does “stupid” Mr. Lochte out of the next Olympics because, as amusing as this is in the off-season, I really don’t want to see so much American Olympic media devoted again to the antics of the shallow. Particularly not the transgressions which are then blasted out across social media.

More swimming and less IV-use! More bicycling and less tear gas! More rugby! And in the Bay Area!

Dare I hope?

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