Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Decline of the Indy 500 (and our culture)

When I was growing up the Indianapolis 500 was always considered one of the year's major sporting events. I can't think of any sporting event other than the World Series which so captivated people's imaginations.

Yet, this morning when SportsCenter had a long fluff piece on it, praising its great tradition, the piece just rang hollow. Only when I realized the race was going to be on ESPN's partner ABC did I realize the point behind the piece. ESPN was simply trying to boost the ratings for the ABC broadcast of the race.

What has happened since my childhood? Today the race seems irrelevant to anything. In fact, I heard that they were having trouble getting a full field of 33 cars for the race, and the racetrack itself was going to finance some teams so that a full field would race.

Obviously, NASCAR has taken over. It is not hard to see why. The contraptions which run at Indy are in no way cars, in fact, I don't know of any name for them, it is simply called "open-wheeled racing". NASCAR, by contrast, has vehicles which actually look like, and are, cars.

But the real question here is why auto racing is so popular in the U.S. It certainly is not a sport, as the result is determined not by the drivers, but by which team has the best group of engineers. This is shown by the fact that it is not the driver who qualifies for a race, but rather the car.

And it is virtually unwatchable. All it is is a group of cars parading around a track in circles. What is there to watch in that? It comes down to the fact that the only reason to go to a race is the chance of seeing a spectacular wreck. In fact, recently a driver apologized to the fans after a race that there weren't more wrecks to watch, and he said the race should have continued until fewer than half of the cars were left!

This fascination with gore and violence permeates other sports as well, a clear sign of the deterioration in the culture of this once-great country. Football has a serious crisis, with former players suing by the hundreds over the head injuries that have rendered their post-NFL lives practically useless. The "bounty program" of the New Orleans Saints illustrates the depravity of this sport.

Basketball is little better. It used to be that a player had to dribble if he was moving with the ball. Now, he is allowed to take 6-7 steps if he is going to the basket, and mayhem ensues. It is more like rugby than it is like real basketball.

And of course there is hockey, where players are allowed to fight with little effort made to prevent the fights. It is what the fans come to see, because otherwise hockey is unwatchable.

And then there is mixed martial arts, in which the object is to destroy the other person.  All of these illustrations show the depravity to which our culture has sunk.

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