Sunday, January 28, 2007

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the most wonderful time of the year is upon us again. And it's not the Super Bowl, even though it is the world's biggest sporting event. Of far more importance is the Winter X Games. These last ten years have been the best in recorded human history because snowboarders and extreme skiers have joined skateboarders and BMX bikers as our greatest athletes. For too long, football players and baseball players and basketball players have been celebrated at the expense of our true sports heroes.

After all, what courage does it require to go deep over the middle or carry the ball into the middle of the defensive line? It is far more impressive to ride a street luge or take on a half pipe. And for my money, once you throw sno and ice into the mix you truly have an appropriate test of one's mettle. After all, for those of you young enough to be in Gen X, think back to your high school days. Outside of the roving gang of lacrosse players, who was tougher than the skater posse. Hell any group of four of them could throw one amazing beating on the average band geek. Just because they weren't very impressive one on one didn't mean they weren't tough.

The best thing about this Winter X games is that the favorites didn't sweep the awards. As some ESPN commentator whose name wasn't worth noting as I've never seen him before just told us, it's time to turn off our brainwashers, because Shawn White isn't as dominant as we'd been led to believe. And like that, my world view shattered.

How right said commentator was, for the wrong reasons. The Flying Tomato is a tool. The energy drink consuming, teen angst music devouring perpetual teenager who makes up the core constituency for snowboarding/skateboaring events is not a cultural arbiter. Mr. White is only a cultural icon because our nation of sports fans have the attention span of goldfish and were swept away by the novelty of these insipid events in the recent Winter Olympics. In about ten years, the NFL will still be king, and the X games will have peaked. I look forward to their demise.

From time to time, when my frustration with the developments in the sports world pushes me, I like to dig up some quote from one of my favoirte authors to amplify my point. Tonight, I go to Joseph Heller, who said this in Catch 22: "Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies all they signified was the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else." To me that sums up the X games, winter and summer, perfectly.

It is not my intention to start an epistemological argument that will finally prove or disprove the inherent value of any sport, or sport in general. But football, baseball, basketball and hockey all have defined objectives, specific purposes that are achieved for all to see by the players on the field. Yes, there is replay in a number of sports to see whether a particular play should stand or be overturned. But there isn't some judge sitting somewhere watching and scoring to see whether or not a trick deserves what points to what decimal degree.

But Heller's words ring true, nonetheless. Thomas Jones running the Power O behind Ruben Brown might not end man's inhumanity to man, but it has a comforting feeling of tradition. But there is a certain desperate effort to find a new attention grabbing pastime inherent in hoping the Flying Tomato or the Archtool or Aquaman lands the frontside fakie 1080 cleanly in the super pipe. When we watch baseball we know a base hit is a base hit, when we watch basketball we know a dunk is a dunk, but at what point does air transcend its mortal self and become big air?

Thankfully, I do not know the answer to that question. The sentence about the fakie 1080 is entirely too close to the lingua franca of the snowboarder for my taste. I wouldn't exactly say I missed the WInter X games this year. Betwen channel surfing, features on Sportscenter and the crippling lack of programming to fill the void left by the NFL's bye week I caught about 20 minutes of snowboarding and extreme skiing and commentary. I think I am the worse for it. I wish it would go away. But tools seem to like it, and programers and sponsors seem to like tools. To update the old saying, the tool and his money are, apparently, soon parted.

But back to Heller, Roger Federer won yet another tennis tournament. I guess I should point out that it was not just another tournament, but the Australian Open. But anyway, Federer can win the next 20 Grand Slams (or every one until the Sun burns out, for that matter). It won't change the fact that men's tennis is a dead genre. There really hasn't been a compelling personality since McEnroe walked the Earth. Women's tennis will be with us always, because so many of us (myself included) are shallow, pathetic, emotionally stunted shildren masquerading as grown men. We like to see tall, leggy, athletic young women in tastefully short garments play a game of grace mixed with power. But men's tennis is beat.

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