Thursday, September 06, 2007

Michael Vick and Savonarola

Last week I wrote a clerihew about Michael Vick.

Today, I return to his case.

Part of his punishment is being suspended from pro football for a time yet to be determined. Some concerned citizens are calling for it to be permanent.

It occurred to me that perhaps we should do a bit more.

We should suspend all professional sports for a time.

Now before sports fanatics jump all over me, let me say that I am a lover of sports. I have several fantasy teams. I try to arrange my Sunday schedule so I can watch the Bills, who are so beloved in Western New York that some churches even move up or shorten their last services so that people can get home in time for kick off. I wear a Red Sox cap, and have a plaque of the 2007 New York Mets in my classroom. I used to sneak in transistor radios – remember them? – so I could listen to the World Series while sitting in class (remember when World Series games were played on weekday afternoons?). I am still haunted by memories of Scott Norwood’s kick that went right in the Super Bowl, and Keith Smart’s last-minute shot that give Indiana the NCAA Men’s Basketball title over Syracuse. I even won a journalism award for sports coverage. Oh, and I won letters in basketball and bowling in high school!

So I have some sports fan credibility.

But the Vick horror has led me to look at love of sports.

That love affects our culture, our schedules, our economy. It has broken up marriages and families. It has led to financial ruin, illness and even deaths. We make false gods of our sports heroes.

While sports may be in and of themselves good things, perhaps we are too attached to them for our own good.

Thus perhaps it might be for our own benefit to go cold turkey.


Well, some people thought that Savonarola was crazy. But Chesterton noted he “is a man whom we shall probably never understand until we know what horror may lie at the heart of civilisation. This we shall not know until we are civilised. It may be hoped, in one sense, that we may never understand Savonarola.”

In his essay on Savonarola contained in Twelve Types, Chesterton goes on to observe, that while lawgivers – sports commissioners? – physicians and reformers saved us from the likes of anarchy, pestilence or starvation, Savonarola went after something even more deadly: Satisfaction.

“Savonarola did not save men from anarchy, but from order; not from pestilence, but from paralysis; not from starvation, but from luxury. Men like Savonarola are the witnesses to the tremendous psychological fact at the back of all our brains, but for which no name has ever been found, that ease is the worst enemy of happiness, andcivilisation potentially the end of man.”

Isn’t sports idolatry part of our distorted culture of ease and pleasure?

Chesterton fancied that Savonarola “saw that the actual crimes were not the only evils: that stolen jewels and poisoned wine and obscene pictures were merely the symptoms;that the disease was the complete dependence upon jewels and wine and pictures.”

Or sports?

And in relation to my own humble suggestion about sports, Chesterton went on to say, “This is a thing constantly forgotten in judging of ascetics and Puritans in old times. A denunciation of harmless sports did not always mean an ignorant hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmful. Sometimes it meant an exceedingly enlightened hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmless. Ascetics are sometimes more advanced than the average man, as well as less.”

I couldn’t have said it better. Really.

“Such, at least, was the hatred in the heart of Savonarola. He was making war against no trivial human sins, but against godless and thankless quiescence, against getting used to happiness, the mystic sin by which all creation fell. He was preaching that severity which is the sign-manual of youth and hope. He was preaching that alertness, that clean agility and vigilance, which is as necessary to gain pleasure as to gain holiness, as indispensable in a lover as in a monk.”

“The fact is,” Chesterton continues, “that this purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have the mind a storehouse of sunset, requires a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.”

So, perhaps we need to do something truly fanatical and radical like suspending sports to truly appreciate them, and to put them in their proper perspective.

Maybe Michael Vicks’ heinous actions can lead to good.

But we should wait until after the Red Sox/Mets World Series rematch I’ve been dreaming about.


Billiam said...

I enjoy the NFL, even though the Packers are in a down time. I'm not fanatical about it, however. I'll watch the game if I have time, or listen on the radio if I'm working. If I miss the game, I can read about it the next day. As to Vick. What he did is disgusting, but not surprising. Many of these professional sports people have problems, be it alchohol, drugs, driving fast, gambling or dog fighting. Young people, suddenly very rich, and don't have a clue as to how to handle it. No surprise. What I find somewhat surprising, is the reaction. Someone mistreats an animal, they want that person hung. A few million abortions? Yawn. THAT, is the true tragedy.

Alan Capasso said...

billiam is correct. we get so worked up over dogs and whales and the animal cops we forget what is really important. yes Chesterton talked a lot about that syndrome.

As for sports just pay the athletes what the average public school teacher makes and match ticket prices to a lab fee.
Never mind, just close the whole circus down for awhile. Really did anyone NOT survive the baseball or hockey strike?