Why Do Sports Need an Extra Bullshit Narrative Layered on Top?


The concept is that they are Hero Warriors who represent our triumph over adversity.

Either that or we're sacrificing them to traumatic brain injuries and crippling injuries to appease God Mammon and His Moneylenders.

When they fail that test, then we pillory them. Because it represents our failure. And why God Mammon is making 99 percent of us poorer as Wages hit 50 year lows and Profits hit 50 year highs.

Admittedly, having gladiatorial combats by banking CEOs would be a lot more fun. And useful.
If these questions came from someone who truly couldn't care less about sports, I'd consider answering them. (Hint: don't make any assumptions about what my answers would be.) But coming from a guy who has expressed superiority in his disdain for sports, I don't think you deserve a response.
I think the attempt to find narrative and create stars has wrecked Olympic coverage. There are probably half a dozen events going on at any moment. It's impossible to televise it all, but the networks devote half their air time to broadcasting pre-recorded footage so Nike can have a more famous spokesperson.

Good color commentators throw in some backstory, but the focus should always be on the sport itself.
I wonder to what extent these stories are piled on in other countries. I usually do a Michelle Obama eyeroll when this sort of coverage comes on.

Anyway, I think sports are supposed to fit into the bootstraps myth--you're good at your game or event or whatever because you put in the practice and training and weightlifting time. So hardship backstories are there to emphasize that there's even more that this athlete had to overcome to be the best. It's like, Greg LeMond winning the Tour de France? Awesome! But Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France after getting ball cancer? Way awesomer!!! But Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France because he didn't just train hard, even though he had ball cancer? Not awesome at all.
Why do blogs need so many purposefully naive rhetorical questions lifted from Learning Annex course descriptions?
This needs a Slog Poll...
Brace yourselves. The anti-Paul-Constant posts are coming.
Sports journalists are just filling up air time...just like not everything on a local news blog is gold. It's part of why they were so easily fooled on the Te'o thing...they had real stories to pursue and real articles to write.

Sports is a big source of revenue and as shows and segments are extended to draw out commercial dollars, there's going to be more and more space for bullshit.
It's for the non-sports fans.

That's why they pour it on extra heavy during the Olympics.

Armstrong hasn't raced in years. He's on Oprah because he's a celebrity now, and people love celebrity scandals. Nothing to do with sports.
Do sports fans really enjoy having these bullshit narratives slapped on top of their sporting events?

I prefer my basketball with Kevin Calabro providing the narratives, narratives such as "Kemp just powered up a thundering sledgehammer jam!! Oh mercy, they'll be talking about that one in church."

As for Te'o, I don't understand why this girlfriend thing is anyone's business besides Te'o's.
Same reason this happens with authors, artists, politicians, musicians, your relatives, your neighbors, your bus driver. Their backstories/sidestories/life stories may or may not have anything to do with their job, but we're all continually interested in them for a variety of reasons from schadenfreude to morbid curiosity to the hero thing. I'm sure there's lots of literature on the subject if you're truly curious.
I have here a list in front of me of the 10,000 weirdest or stupidest things done by a college student in the past year, and inventing a fake girlfriend, or having one invented for him by someone else, or whatever the fuck happened with Mr. Te'o, isn't on it.

I don't understand any part of this story. Not even a little bit. I don't even understand the hair-rending by the media, beating themselves up for not "checking out the story". Checking out what story? Who gives a shit if his "girlfriend" is "real" or "not"? How many college students do you think are thinking "Christ, I hope nobody asks me about MY fake girlfriend now".

I support a Constitutional amendment to make mentioning the name "Te'o" and "girlfriend" in the same sentence in print or on TV a capital offense, starting NOW.
America loves an underdog story. Sports figure in our stories because they pit one competitor against another, one team against another- the background stories of family tragedy or personal loss just help us to identify the underdog, so we can root for him. It's as much about sports as it is arts and our collective culture. I mean, who do you want to win the Little Indy, Paul? A bunch of rich college kids on the best bikes money can buy, or a small, scrappy band of local stonecutters' kids? That's art, and it's sports.
These bullshit narratives got someone who doesn't even like sports to talk about non-sports, sports.
@12 has it. This phenomenon is not limited to sports.

If you like an artist's music, does their backstory really matter? No, but they'll get their own episode of Behind the Music if they make it big.

If you like a particular work of fiction, do the minute details of the author's life really matter? No, but they'll be talked about by those analyzing the text.

If a politician is doing good work that you support, does it matter what their childhood was like? No, but you'll hear all about it during campaign season.

It's all entertainment and exploitation.
Riiight ... this only happens in sports. The Stranger isn't filled with bullshit narratives on everything from the local music scene to city hall every fucking week. Whatever you say.
Yes,I think he needed a dead girlfriend. To hide his boyfriend.
Sadly, @19 is probably correct.
at the beginning of my senior year in high school I was really excited to take creative writing, but the class disintegrated after a week or so due to so many kids dropping the course. the only other class that I could take and get an English credit with my schedule as it was happened to be Sports Lit. of course, this wasn't exciting to me at all, but we had a pretty decent teacher who engaged the class in a lot of discussions and at the end of the semester, I felt I actually learned a few things. you have to respect the narrative, whether it's about some douche with one ball racing on a bike, or some turd with one eye blowing glass. people like their mythologies.

I do agree with you on one thing though, Paul; I hate that we expect sports stars to be these flawless moral role models. you know that it's due to the fact that sports has so much appeal to children and people don't want to send them the wrong message yadda yadda yadda... but I do wish a bunch of unabashed degenerates could just duke it out with a few Tebow-types and the best man or woman wins.
don't hate sports paul. there's a LOT of nakedness to be enjoyed there.
No, I don't. Thanks for asking, Paul.
I don't think real fans give a fuck. I remember when the media ginned up some bullshit drama between Mike Piazza and Roger Clemons during the '01 world series. It was strictly for the mouth breathers that otherwise wouldn't pay attention to the big local/national sports story.

NCAA football fans have moved way past the Te'o story, but hausfrau's across America are still providing a steady stream of blog clicks.
@9 Has it right. Real sports fans want to watch the fucking sport, not the story. The story is for people who wouldn't pay attention otherwise.
As someone who likes watching sports, but is not a hardcore sportfan, I couldn't give a flying fuck about anyone's backstory. It's fun enough to watch the actual competition. In the Olympics, it gets so jingoistic that I start rooting against the Americans sometimes. I hate sports narratives unless they actually involve that person's participation in sports.
I dunno, Paul, do you Literature Fans care about author bios in magazines and on dust jackets, or do they just piss you off?
But the biography of an author matters? It matters is a text is fiction or fact?
There are certain things that reveal the character of the athlete that I do want to know.

For instance, I'm glad I know about Michael Vick's dog abuse and Roethlisberger's sexual assaults. These have nothing to do with their on-field performance, but I don't ever want to root for a complete dirtbag, no matter how talented.
I'm pretty sure I recall reading that you teared up at the dnc. You probably get wet whenever lady O rocks a new look. I agree; sports stories are nauseating but it's worse in politics.
While 2 is correct, I imagine it adds context and color to the drama without a script that is an elite sporting event.
There are some really cool stories about athletes overcoming adversity. But TV -- particularly ESPN, with its multiple cable channels and thousands of hours to fill a week -- carries it to absurd levels. As others have pointed out, it's an attempt to suck in non-fans; most of us switch the station when ESPN's Tom Rinaldi starts with the treacly piano music and sad narrative.

That's why the Te'o story resonates: Not that he had a fake girlfriend, but that ESPN (and many others) had sold us this heroic, heartbreaking story about his grandmother dying (for real) and his (fake) girlfriend dying on the same day while he soldiered on for one of the top-ranked teams in the country.
Honestly, the narratives that annoy me more are the ones coming from event commentators. You know, the guys in the box calling play by play and color. About the only ones I can stand are the SNS commentators for Canucks games, and the guys calling Sounders FC. But when it comes to NFL, MLB, much of NHL, and virtually all NCAA, the commentary has gotten so bad that I'm thinking it's time to get rid of those guys and just run the game sounds.

@2 — The rest of the media consumers in the nation have to put up with discussion of these sports narratives in the news, which can be really annoying since there are far more important things going on in the world.

And I'm not one who disdains sports.
@ 25 plently of real sports fans love the backstory makes it more,special.
You are right, you aren't a sports fan. Bu you are an intelligent person, and I can only assume you we're being purposely obtuse when you asked that question. But I'll answer anyway;

It is for the exact same reason you get interested in the story of any other public figure, whether it be an author, dancer, politician, painter, musician, etc.

Now stop asking stupid questions. That saying about "there are no dumb questions" needs to be amended to require that the questions are sincere.
2, exactly. What is most disappointing is how Paul cordons off the subject to that of "sports," instead of seeing something essentially human in these stories.
I hate the back story bull shit. I think it makes things like the Olympics a big old eye poke. I think the people who looovveee the narrative are the people yapping at us from the T.V. because they are vapid, shallow people pandering to vapid, shallow audiences.
Shared myths are discussed at length by Leo Strauss. Sports heroes are supposed to unite people who would otherwise become lost in individual pursuits and get them to imitate behaviors and ideas similar to those performed by the sports hero in question. Tim Tebow is not paid beucoups bucks just because he can play football; he is paid so highly because he promotes religiosity, and people who want America to become more christian fundamentalist want someone like Tebow to convince Americans to imitate his overt displays of christian fundamentalism.

The sports hero is not an individual, s/he is an archetypal figure, someone we are all supposed to want to be. Thus, s/he cannot display imperfection. Doing so undermines the shared myth. Or, if they do fail, they must fail spectacularly, so as to embody the villain everyone is supposed to want not to be. So, they must be god or satan, but never human.

A shared myth is created out of fear of Classical Liberalism taken to an extreme, in which society would dissolve into a mass of individuals competing for their own selfish desires at the cost of the group. A shared myth taken too far results in events like the Nikia Riots. A more modern equivalent would be rowdy English soccer fans or the Canadian phenomenon of being exceptionally nice in every respect except hockey, over which the entire country is completely batshit and will flip your car over before torching it.

JD Talmon talks about something called Totalitarian Democracy. A Totalist state distinguishes itself by the belief that politics can reshape human nature for the better. It therefore makes every aspect of life political, as it must if it is to remold every aspect of the citizenry's behavior.

This is why sporting events are organized, and in some cases, officially sanctioned. Baseball, for example, is a legal monopoly. Some political theorists, particularly those devoted to Strauss, believe that shared myths such as organized professional sports can be used to mold the American public influence our behaviors, and channel our thought processes away from self-indulgence toward more of a national consciousness. In this sense, this ideology matches Talmon's concept of Totalitarian Democracy.

Actual sporting events only last for an hour or three, and not every day. Those who are paid to report on them must find stories to fill the gaps to keep us interested. In a way, Slog exists for the same purpose - to keep the news cycle going between big stories by exposing real or created crises in between the actual events. Since you don't follow sports, all you see is the in-between stuff and that's why it's magnified for you.
I have no interest in sports. Any sports. Especially American football, baseball and basketball. Oh, and hockey.

But I can definitely drum up some enthusiasm for stories about gay Mormons.

Not interested in Lance Armstrong, although the "now there's a guy with ball" gag was funny.
UGH @ 38 and others who bring the profound comments that keep me coming back to Slog time after time. My brain thanks you for this level of discourse.
Bullshit Narratives get attached to EVERYTHING.
"I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? I mean, I don't know anybody on the team, you know? I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn't mean any -- it doesn't make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it's a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements -- in fact, it's training in irrational jingoism..."

Why is it, then, that so many Serious Fans of Serious Literature insist that the text should stand or fall on its own merits, regardless of who produced it, how it was promoted, or anything else external to the actual body of work?

I don't think Paul Constant is that kind of Literature Fan, mind you, as he does seem to care about the political leanings of this or that author of adventure stories, but then that's why I initially asked him about dustjackets— I'm pretty sure he does care about that stuff, and for reasons having nothing to do with the quality of the performance on the field.
It's just the opposite -- this stuff is there to fill in the interest gaps for casual or non-fans. Compare the size of the TV audience for any Olympic event, filled with human interest back story coverage, with the size of the audience for its equivalent world championship the next year, lacking such additional coverage. They're not even close.
The figure skater's mum had cancer. She died just before the final round. And when Joannie Rochette stood up and said "Maman je t'aime" how could you not tear up

You can care if the author's "true memoir" is a lie, or you can read it in isolation, and enjoy the text on its own merits. You can wonder if Shakespeare really had all that shit happen to him (Shakespeare in Love!) or not. It's not clear to serious readers which is better.

But to someone who ostentatiously hates sports, it's all much simpler. Everything is easy when you have that agenda.
Stranger'sworstnightmare finally had a good idea.
I haven't read the rest of the comments, but I personally hate the "personal interest" kind of stories during the Olympics. I think they're actually designed to interest people who AREN'T sports people. In any case, the sports are enough for me.
As opposed to the narratives in the arts world, which are entirely made up?