The Path Before Us

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Netflix and Sports - Issue #73


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The Path Before Us
Netflix and Sports - Issue #73
By Matthew Lee Anderson • Issue #73 • View online
I was going to let this whole Netflix business die. Really, I was. But Derek Rishmawy now stands before me, raising the rather impertinent question about my willingness to watch basketball and implicitly charging me with: hypocrisy. Here he is, playing the Devil’s Advocate: 
So you know that I’m not wholly averse to your “quit Netflix” argument. I probably won’t do it–at least not cold turkey–but I feel the appeal. But here’s my devil’s advocate question: how would you distinguish the Netflix effect from daily and weekly consumption of sports? (Which, based on Twitter, you still do? Or am I mistaken?) Or would you? In other words, would not most of your “Quit Netflix” argument translate easily into a “Quit Sports” argument? 
I’m not a sports watcher even though I played as a youth, but as I’ve grown up, I have had the sense that if watching shows and movies is a waste of time, how much more is sports? Leave aside the moral questions about the amount of money spent in paying grown men to play children’s games and so forth. I just think of sitting there for, 3 or 4 hours on a Sunday afternoon, or a Friday night, to watch one of dozens and hundreds of games throughout the year (if Baseball, the most boring of all sports, no matter how technical I know the whole affair is). These are hundreds of hours sitting there, doing almost nothing except lowering and raising your blood pressure due to your largely misplaced devotion to this tribe. Or think of the amount of energy devoted to keeping in mind various sports facts, following shifting rosters, draft picks, analysis of how So-and-So’s injury will impact the season, or whether Such-and-Such’s contract dispute is valid, etc.? And the thing just keeps going all year long, year in and year out. With most of these controversies–in the grand scheme of things–not really mattering and rarely provoking the kind of thought, reflection, and self-analysis that a good film, show, or documentary arguably could. I have spent almost no time in my life following these matters and, aside from not getting half of my Twitter feed during College Football season, or the Final Four, my life is just great without it. 
It is true that I watch basketball, though I don’t think I make it a daily habit. And it is true that I follow happenings in the NBA with more regularity than I ought. I try to watch as much basketball as I can out, in the company of fellow basketball watchers, but that means that I mainly watch either my home team (Baylor) or when playoffs are happening. It does happen that I will watch a regular season NBA game at home sometimes, but I really work hard to not. 
Because I consider my basketball watching a vice, albeit (I hope) minor one. At some point over the past five years, I became an imperfectionist about my own sanctification. Not only do I no longer expect myself to expunge every one of my vices, but I also am willing to accommodate myself to some minor vices in order to prevent larger ones from taking their place. Like priggishness, for instance. One might easily accuse me of it for my judgments about Netflix…but aha, see dear reader, I am entangled also within the same net of mediocrity! Pray for me, and I’ll do the same for you. 
But how is it that I can justify this form of compromise, but not Netflix? You will be unsurprised to discover that I think there are some pertinent differences between them, even if on their own they both incline us toward the same sorts of slovenly laziness. Sporting events are discrete happenings, which bind us to time. Unlike Netflix, they demand the alteration of our schedules in order to consume them: they are (mainly) not there, waiting for us. Because the drama of sports hangs at least in part on the uncertainty of the outcome, once we discover who won, interest in watching the game itself fades rapidly for most people. All of that makes it easier to resist allowing sports to encroach upon our ordinary lives. 
The rejoinder to this line of reasoning is, of course, already baked into Derek’s question: sports radio ensures that the game is never finished, and now that the NBA is over the drama and intrigue of free agency has proved nearly as entertaining (if not moreso). I’m happy to concede this (again, it’s a vice), but the phenomenon of paying attention to Real Life Drama of stars is not unknown to afficionados of Hollywood’s wares, either. But yes, one ought not give in to the consumptive passion of an NBA junkie, either. 
Two other reasons why I am willing to accommodate this, though, suggest themselves. First, I think watching sports is more activity-conducive than watching film or movies. My interest in watching basketball ebbs and flows with how much I am playing basketball. I try to watch with an eye for things I might employ on the court as a slow, aging, mediocre white guy (I’m looking at you, Kyle Korver). Note that watching a film with this sort of intentionality actually undermines its logic: reducing a film to how we might or ought live in light of it turns it into the worst sort of moralizing propaganda, which no critic would allow. But the impulse in sports is unavoidable: when we see something great on the court, our natural proclivity is to try to imitate it. 
Second, I tend to think that sports has a democratizing element buried within them. There is something about raw talent that overcomes any other natural aptitudes or gifts: the only thing that matters at the end is which team puts the ball in the basket more. I’m not persuaded, though, that much of the ‘golden age of television’ is democratic in the same way, or that it provides a common ground that people can meet on irrespective of class or education. As the brilliant Brad East observes, “knowledge of pop culture is the lingua franca of upwardly mobile bourgeois-aspirational twenty- and thirty-somethings working white collar jobs in big cities (not to mention college, the gateway to such a destination).” But you know what’s open to everyone? Knowledge about basketball–or, even moreso, football. That’s an impressionistic worry, but it is a worry that I have. 
But I don’t think any of this is fully persuasive. So, yes, I am a hypocrite. But is Kawhi going to sign with the Clippers, Lakers, or Toronto? I’m dying waiting to find out! 

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The Penultimate Word
“[Christ’s] majesty derives from the depth of the omnipotent mercy of God, in which God Himself in His Son really gives Himself to man as His creature, accepting and effecting solidarity with him even to the bitter end. This divine basis of the majesty of the man Jesus became a palpable and visible and quite unequivocal event in the fact that His majesty expressed itself in His clear and complete and consistent lowliness; that He was King and Lord in His death and passion, rejected and cast out and executed on the cross.” – Karl Barth
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