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My wife and I recently got into an argument about the ethical and defensible difference between team sports and martial arts.  (Yes, these are the kinds of arguments that come up in my house.)

For those of you that don’t know me, I kind of hate team sports.  I think that they are (for the most part) dumb, in that they represent games that are nothing more than a set of arbitrary rules lumped together with no basis in real activities.

“Wait!” I hear you interject (turn off your webcam mic, so I can’t hear that anymore, please).  “How is that any different from MMA?  You have a 2nd degree black belt and you watch just about every MMA broadcast that you can.  You are a hypocrite and a failure as a man.”

Okay.  The “failure as a man” thing was a bit of a low blow, but I can address the other part.  MMA (“mixed martial arts,” or what is commonly being referred to as “ultimate fighting” or UFC) and other combat sports represent martial arts, and the term “martial” arts gives you the background.  They were developed for combat or self-defense, so when you see an MMA bout, you are watching people practicing a practical, useful art that has been around for as long as people have been fighting each other.  (There are ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that show systems of combat training from 2500 years ago.)

Now compare that to a team sport.

Football?  A bunch of guys try to run an inflated pig skin through a bunch of other guys to cross a goal line, then arbitrarily back up afterwards to kick the inflated pig skin through fence posts to get more points.  Really?  And they are allowed to wear plastic armor to better facilitate them ramming into each other.  And there has to be sexy cheerleaders on the sidelines.  If you can tell me the practical historical precedent of that activity, I would love to hear it.  Also, the name is stupid; it already belongs to a game where kicking the ball with your foot is the primary means of moving the ball.  Slapping the word “American” at the beginning of it does reduce the confusion, but it also makes it look like Americans can’t tell that the name is poorly chosen.

Basketball?  A Canadian invented this one, so I feel like I should go easy on it, but this game is equally stupid.  You can’t carry the ball.  You can’t jump more than once while holding it.  You can’t dribble with both hands at once.  You can’t try to knock over the other player.  You have to somehow follow all of these stupid rules and still put a ball up through a hoop hanging ten feet off the ground.  And no hanging off the hoop.  It is painfully absurd under examination.

Baseball?  Sorry, I’m only talking about sports here.  A game where a bunch of guys stare at each other and wait 12 minutes between 90 foot sprints is not a sport.  Nor is it a sport when a “perfect game” involves no one hitting the damn ball!  That’s the only interesting thing that ever happens!

Hockey?  You can read about my thoughts on hockey here.  They haven’t changed.  I still want to see Greased-Sheet Kazoo Marmot Toss in the next Olympics.

In this case I would recommend watching your sport of choice a bit less and playing it a bit more. No, playing it on your PS3 doesn't count.

But things get worse and worse as you look more closely into team sports.  Have you ever had a reasonable conversation with someone who openly declares himself or herself as a particular team’s “hardcore fan?”  You know, the kind of person that wears body paint in the proper colours around the playoffs?  The one that can rattle off every starting lineup from the last two decades?

Yeah, I’ve never had a reasonable conversation with one either.

You see, being a steadfast supporter of a sports team has become a point of pride for many people these days.  You get to feel smug if you proudly wore the jersey through the lean years only to watch the team pull itself together and make a run for the cup (or trophy or widget or whatever the hell it is that you win in your sport of choice).  You claim that you are a true fan, a believer in the undying spirit of the Backwalla Juggernauts or whatever.  You are someone that really gets what the team means.

Except, of course, for the fact that teams don’t mean a damn thing.

Before you get all defensive, stop and think about it for a second.  Your “team” is made up of an ever-shifting bunch of freelance athletes that, with few exceptions, go where the money is best and the weather is warmest.  They don’t represent the city where they play anymore than a mercenary represents the country where he fights.  The team’s leadership gets cut at the whims of managers and owners that are also after the biggest buck.  If there is a “spirit” or “guiding principle” behind the Quantum Bay Fusiliers, it is that tickets cost money and money buys stuff for investors.

Really, the only thing with any consistency in your team is the jersey, and even that gets changed when the marketing team gets bad numbers with focus groups.

So what are you supporting?  A set of colours?  People have been doing that for millennia.  They treat their flags as more sacred than the safety and freedom of their citizens.  That usually leads to grand pronouncements like “Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori.”  And it also tends to lead to a lot of young, proud, dead men on bloody fields.

No, I am not suggesting the supporting your college football team will lead to a new Hitlerian regime rising up on the backs of tailgaters and soccer hooligans, but it does disturb me that the human need to ally oneself with a group has led to people treating sports as important, teams as real, and contests waged with random rules as something worth caring about beyond the realm of mere entertainment.

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