When we first moved to Omaha, Nebraska some years ago, and settled into our new house, it was a Friday. By Saturday noon, we had made an initial stab at organizing a few essential boxes, and wanted to relieve the “cabin fever” by taking a drive to familiarize ourselves with our new surroundings.
On this July afternoon, we drove downtown, barely encountering cars on the road. It was surreal, almost like a ghost town, and we were beginning to wonder whether there were actually people in the city–or whether this was just a mirage, made up of only houses and buildings.
Well, yes–Omaha does have many inhabitants. So where were they this sunny July afternoon? They were all either attending the “Big Red” University of Nebraska Cornhuskers college (American) football game in Lincoln, Nebraska (50 miles away)–or they were watching it on television. Given that there are no professional football teams in Nebraska, there is a great deal of local pride in the “Cornhuskers”. Indeed, so much so, that (at least according to the scientist played by Harrison Ford in “Extraordinary Measures“) the coach of this team is the highest paid employee of the University of Nebraska (estimated at 2.1 million dollars a year). That apparently includes the President of the University, the Chancellor of the College of Medicine and the various Deans and other high ranking academics.
It is true that I spent my youth/adolescence mostly in Winnipeg, Canada (home of the mosquitoes and snow). However, all of my undergraduate and graduate studies were at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. To the very best of my knowledge, there were NO sports teams at the university. Neither the most popular sport (European) football (=soccer in the US), nor the highly popular basketball. The reason? Studies were extremely intensive. Who could possibly have time to even watch sports, not to mention actually play and train. Although my experience with European universities is very limited, I suspect that organized sports (especially those that are nationally televised and regarded more seriously than the studies themselves) are not major components of the academic systems. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Is a huge investment in sports justified? Does this come at the expense of scientists, historians and academics, as well as scholarships and fellowships for students? Those in favor of college sports maintain that the interest and revenues generated by the sports programs by far outweigh the financial costs. In other words, sports are more profitable than science, for example–and well, colleges today have “accountability”. Business is business. But what about academics? Is that not the first priority of an institute of higher learning?
I myself am not biased against sports and athletics. During my youth, I loved to play (European) football, basketball, ice hockey, tennis, volleyball and more. I even managed to train and run a couple marathons before my knees “went south”. Perhaps because of that. Years later, when I found an unbelievably brilliant physiotherapist who helped me through my painful knee troubles, I moaned about not being able to play sports and stay healthy. I recall the shock that I had when he looked at me and said, “Who says playing sports keeps you healthy? Playing sports ruins your body.”
I thought about that statement a lot. Especially when reading that Olympic swimmers typically have about 8-10 shoulder operations by the time they are 30 years of age, and that the average professional golfer also undergoes a similar number of shoulder and sometimes knee operations. Professional basketball players continually have knee operations, and I have read about many who receive routine cortisone shots for back and shoulder pain. There is no need to discuss wrestling and certainly not boxing, if one even deems it a “sport”. I could go on and on–any sport with repetitive motion (all sports, basically) when played at a “professional” level will lead to injuries. Just take me as an example–a professional computer user–and I have been suffering this past month from severe neck/shoulder arm pain (what can I do, grants and papers are due…). So much so, that I have actually splurged and purchased voice recognition software to try dictation. So don’t laugh if my upcoming blogs come out unreadable!
But I digress, and digression is painful for me right now… So my real question is what is it with our “love of sport”–a love that survives even in the face of pain and injury? Is the sport the ultimate (legal) display of domination? The simulation of war, as aptly told in John Knowles great novel “A Separate Peace“? Now, I can already feel Henry going into offensive mode over this next statement–but is sport an evolutionary custom to replace our caveman-like hunter-warrior desires (yes–gender purposefully male here, and not ‘caveperson’)? Is scoring a goal in football equivalent to male penetration and dominance?
Before I exacerbate my shoulder problems further, and alienate Henry, I will sign off…