Why Are Sports Fairer than Law and Politics?

American sports exerts great effort to assure the fairness of their games. Endless replays with camera views from every angle, congressional hearings on whether athletes use performance-enhancing drugs, legal prosecution for alleged betting on performances, and endless scrutiny over the fairness of scheduling, rankings, and post-season participants. New methods to assure fairness on the field are only limited by the current state of technology, or how much delay in their entertainment the audience will tolerate. Off the field negotiations between unions, owners, commissioners, lawyers, and politicians work tirelessly to assure that the games are fair.

Moreover, these standards of fairness and impartiality are often applied more thoroughly in sports than they are in the criminal justice system. There innocent persons are often expeditiously convicted and exonerating evidence withheld—especially for certain kinds of defendants. Perhaps the only exception occurs when the accused are themselves athletes, in which case they sometimes received preferential treatment. If you are lucky enough to have entertainment value or political power, you stand a much better chance of avoiding the law’s wrath.

Or consider our supposed democracy. In it the wealthiest assure themselves of a disproportionate voice in politics. Yet, at the same time, they make sure that the voices of the masses go unheard, by gerrymandering districts and suppressing voting. Those in power generally ignore that society is unjust to the core. Some individuals have unfair, unmerited advantages that virtually guarantee success, while others are burdened with undeserved obstacles that make success almost impossible. Some can’t lose and others can’t win. But to those weaned on Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness and its implicit social Darwinism, this all seems moral.

What could possibly explain all this? Why is the position of a football receiver’s toe relative to the sideline often analyzed in greater detail than the crime of one accused of something that carries a life sentence? Why would Congress possibly care so much about whether baseball players like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens used steroids, but not by their actions that condemns thousands to death for lack of health care, from gun violence, or as mercenaries in their wars? Sure sports is profitable and the profiteers want to keep the money flowing. But why do the politically powerful care so much about sports and not about poverty, pain, war, and torture?

The answer is sinister. The powerful want to make sure their games are “on the up and up” because the entertainment of sports quiets discontent. As Edward Gibbon taught us long ago, the Roman Empire used bread and circuses to control its people. Keep their bellies full and their eyes entertained and they will remain ignorant or apathetic to the injustice that surrounds them. American sport is our circus; it keeps the population mollified. It also inculcates patriotism—flags decorate the player’s uniforms while both performers and audience must stand for the national anthem. This is our civic duty; it is our religion. This helps us forget; it is the opiate of our masses.

Whatever happens, those in power want to make sure that we don’t become dissatisfied with our entertainment. If the masses ever did they might really become angry. And not that their favorite team had lost, but with the violence and injustice that surrounds them.

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