You have to admit one thing about collegiate sports: They cost less than war between nations, though not so much less with each passing year.
Today’s campus sports do cost an indecent price, but they may have one saving grace. They are “the little brother of war.”
That was what some North American Indian tribes labeled lacrosse, their roughhouse game invented decades ago. For many team sports, including North American football and global soccer, the little brother is a game that copies some aspects of war – defending and taking territory.
Lacrosse is a contact sport that uses a ball in a little basket on the end of a long stick. That stick involves a lot of whacking of other players.
North American collegiate football involves whacking innocent students with enormous tuition charges to help cover the spending sprees of gold-plated athletic departments.
But in truth, most taxpayers today gladly go along with all the money a team thinks it needs, though those same taxpayers wouldn’t give a mathematics or chemistry department another nickel.
Even so, the vast expenditures for team sports may have one large benefit for society: Those sports are far less lethal than actual war and may serve as a substitute for the tendency of nations to fly off the handle and start killing people.
Genetically, we humans are tribal animals. It is in our nature to band together for protection from other tribes, clashing with them and losing or winning our food and slaves (better known today as beer and cheerleaders).
Team sports may be safe replacements for real war. “The little brother of war” is better than dying in massive murder binges with big brother.
And for all our pleasurable hysteria on the day of a game, deep down, fans recognize on reflection that their passions are mostly for fun and not to be taken seriously on the morning after the game.
The big brother of war is a grim reaper. So little brother of war lets off some serious steam from our hot-headed tendency to cling together in packs and villages armed to the teeth and capable of mayhem.
Perhaps some savvy graduate student even now is studying whether cities and nations that go crazy over major team sports are less likely to rush into real wars.
Football, soccer and lacrosse do produce, temporarily, some of the same reactions as real war. For instance, we fans on both sides of the stadium get so worked up over the action before us that we become artificially alarmed when the other team scores and goes ahead. We forget for the moment that it’s all a game and we almost get the feeling our town is doomed.
But when our team scores a touchdown and goes ahead in the game, we are greatly relieved. We have survived. And for a few hours we enjoy the notion that the team’s victory means our town is better than their town.
Later, as we come to our senses, most of us laugh off a sports loss or feel a little foolish about getting so worked up as to think we are superior people.
Fortunately, the little brother of war is rarely lethal – though it seems so if you follow your favorite team a bit too intensely.
On the other hand, a troubling thought occurs. I may have the intent of the little brother war backwards. What if football, soccer and lacrosse represent a preparation for, rather than an avoidance of real war? It’s like kittens who play at fighting. Are they training for skirmishing as adults with danger and death?
A little brother becomes a man, and sometimes a kitten becomes a tiger that, like war, begins eating everyone in sight.Contact columnist Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.