As half the nation eagerly awaits the next game of the World
Series, the other half looks on in puzzlement at what could
be so enthralling about grown men hitting a little ball and
running around in circles.
Baseball fans who cannot articulate why they love the game
may retreat to their television sets feeling a vague sense of
guilt that, perhaps, they are wasting their time.
However, no such guilt is called for, because watching sports
satisfies a vital human need. The essential value of spectator
sports lies in their capacity to illustrate, in a dramatic way,
the process of human goal-achievement. They do this by making
the process shorter, simpler, and more visually exciting than
it is in daily life—and by giving us heroes to admire.
A process of goal-achievement underlies everything that makes
our lives richer, from discovering new medicines to learning
about computers, from pursuing a career to enjoying loved ones.
But success is not automatic—each such endeavor must be started
and maintained, often in the face of great obstacles, by an
individual’s choices. To gather the moral courage to make their
own difficult choices each day, people need inspiration—the
spiritual fuel that flows from the sight of another’s achievement.
Unfortunately, our culture’s traditional sources of inspiration
have dried up. Today’s movies give us serial killers or self-mocking
secret agents; novels feature the pedestrian and the neurotic;
biographies revel in finding clay feet; and news programs are
filled with public figures cravenly compromising their ideals.
In this value-challenged milieu, sporting events offer us a
rare glimpse of heroes at work.
But how can heroic stature arise from a perfectly useless act
like hitting a baseball over a fence? The answer is that the
non-utilitarian nature of sporting goals provides a limited,
safe context in which everyone’s focus can be on the process
of goal-achievement as such, not on the particular nature or
value of the goal. Just imagine how the carefree joy of watching
the World Series would be crushed if, for example, one learned
that a friend’s life depended on the outcome.
Spectator sports invite us to take pleasure in our capacity
for admiration. Different athletes display different virtues—one
performs well under pressure, another shows consistent excellence
despite advancing age, a third publicly takes pride in his accomplishments—but
each contributes to the vast storehouse of sporting memories
that fans draw upon every day, as reminders that difficult goals
can be achieved by focused, dedicated effort.
Because physical action is stressed in all spectator sports,
some potential fans may be bored by the prospect of watching
bodies run around on a playing surface. But in truth, sports—like
all human endeavors—have both a mental and physical component,
and the spectator who doesn’t understand what’s going on in
the players’ heads is often missing the point of the game. This
is nowhere truer than in baseball, where the brute physical
action in a three-hour game probably totals less than thirty
minutes, but where the intervening time is solidly packed with
intrigue, as the strategy changes from pitch to pitch.
Sports offer as close to a universal value language as we have
left. The sense of brotherhood that sports fans feel makes it
possible for complete strangers to find themselves happily discussing
the latest exploits of their favorite team. Ultimately, sporting
events like the World Series offer a microcosmic vision of what
“real life” could, and should, be like.
In a society that increasingly rewards weakness and failure,
sports fans know that each athlete has to earn his way onto
the field by proving his superior ability, and that physical
and mental handicaps will be recognized for what they are—obstacles
to be overcome on the road to achievement, not values in their
In a nation whose laws are increasingly arbitrary, sports fans
know they can spend time in a world where the rules are explicit,
known in advance, and fair to everyone.
In a culture that preaches the deadening duty of self-sacrifice
and service to others, sports fans look forward to turning on
the TV and immersing themselves in an exciting, suspenseful
contest for no other purpose than their own personal enjoyment.
In a world of life-and-death conflicts, spectator sports give
us a “time-out”—an opportunity to relax and celebrate human
skill, dedication, and success in a spirit of simple joy.
So if you didn’t watch the World Series guilt-free, remember
that NBA play began the very next day, and that for the next
few months there’s still Monday Night Football.
Thomas A. Bowden practices law in Baltimore, Maryland and
is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif.
The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of
Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org