Sports & politics

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(HOST)Commentator Philip Baruth has come to the conclusion that there are only two sorts of people, those who love sports and those who love politics and they inhabit two entirely different Americas.

(BARUTH) The older I get the more I become convinced that America produces only two kinds of human beings: those who love sports, and those who love politics. Granted, a few overachievers crave both, and a few underachievers crave neither. But basically America is split down the middle, half of us willing to paint our stomachs to help the Patriots win on Sunday, and the other half willing to dress up in a chicken suit to force a rival candidate to debate.

Myself, I’ve always been a chicken-suit kind of guy.

It’s not that I don’t like sports. I do. But I like sports the way someone likes, you know, a game: I’m willing to play if the weather’s nice, and I can sense the poetry when a guy plays hurt, yet scores the winning run.

But I’ve just never been able to get that worked up about whether one group of really strong, overpaid guys marginally outplays another group of really strong, overpaid guys at a game that is so patently fictional.

And yet I have friends who are obviously devastated when their teams lose; they actually experience something like heart-ache. They worry about these ballplayers, whether their ACLU’s will heal, whether their assault charges will be dismissed. Statistics matter to them in the way that scripture matters to the faithful. None of this makes any sense to me.

And yet, although I live in Vermont, I’m the kind of guy who has his eye on a special election in California’s 50th-district right now, as well as one just coming to a head in Italy. I desperately want Berlusconi out, and Busby in. Vote totals and percentages are like nutrients for me.

Why? Because I have ancient political grudges to hold, and scores to settle, and only winning at the ballot box can make these powerful urges die down.

And having won, it’s then necessary to keep winning — we’re talking dynasty! Because if you’re not winning, you’re heading for a loss, and that’s the worst thing of all, next to actual literal losing.

Still, I like to think that my obsession is the healthier of the two, because it produces consequences in the real world. Imagine that they played the Superbowl, I tell my sports-fanatic friends, and the winning team didn’t get a ring that they’ll later hawk on Ebay. Imagine instead that your team got to decide whether to repave your street. Imagine that your team got to decide how many particles of arsenic were allowed to remain in your kid’s drinking water. Your team got to decide whether we go to war, and, once we’ve gone to war, whether to come home. That’s the way it is with the games I play, I tell them. People win, and then they get to do stuff off the playing field good stuff or bad, there’s no denying that it’s real stuff.

But my sports-fantatic friends are always unimpressed. They point out that politicians wear boring uniforms, have insane muscle-to-fat ratios, and nearly always value themselves above the team. And as for what’s actually real, it’s politicians who come to the season-opener and pretend unsuccessfully to be athletes, not the other way around.

Which, in a word, is true.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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