Morris: The Sport of Kings, et al.

May 16, 2022

by Leo Morris

It’s probably sacrilegious for a Hoosier to admit this, but I find auto racing the dullest of spectator sports.

Watching cars go around and around a track endlessly, lap after lap, until a winner is finally declared just before my bottom falls asleep? Counting the raisins in a box of cereal would be about that exciting to me.

At least I can only say that auto racing bores me. It incenses my sister. As a resident of the Circle City, she is inundated with wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Indianapolis 500 weeks – and lately, even months – before the actual event. It’s finally almost upon us, so her long personal nightmare is almost over.

And as long as I’m slighting diversions near and dear to Indiana hearts, I might as well confess that I’m not that crazy about basketball, either.

Oh, I flirted with college hoops for a few years when Bobby Knight was Indiana University’s head coach. But at least half the fun of watching the team was wondering if this was the game in which Knight would at last go totally bonkers and be dragged off the court in chains, foaming at the mouth.

Ultimately, I decided the game was just too fast for me to follow. Run and shoot. Run and shoot.

And if basketball is too fast to follow, baseball is too slow. Sometimes, the pitcher and catcher spend so much time signaling each other and trying to psych out the batter that I feel the need to drop the crossword puzzle I’m working on and yell, “Just throw the ball already!”

Football gets it about right. Not too fast, not too slow, just the right amount of offense and defense, a good mix of brute strength and patient strategy.

Alas, I can’t see a semi-pro football game in Fort Wayne – just basketball and baseball. I could go see a semi-pro hockey game, but, come on – hockey to me is like soccer on ice. I don’t understand where the lines are or whether the players are violating the rules or not, and, frankly, I don’t care enough to learn.

You know what I’d like to see here? Horse racing. Now, there’s a sport to get a spectator’s heart pumping. There’s a nice buildup with good suspense. You get to hang out with the whole spectrum of the human race – suave gentlemen in linen suits and elegant ladies in outrageous hats, alongside drunken carousers and degenerate gamblers. Then – boom! the starting gun – the race is on, just like with autos, but it’s all over in two minutes, and we can all go home.

Did you see the Kentucky Derby? The winner, Rich Strike, was not only an 80-to-1 long shot. The horse was also the 21st entrant in a 20-contestant field and only got in the race because of a scratch the night before. Furthermore, its trainer had almost quit the profession a few years ago.

This is the stuff of legends. It almost gets into the Seabiscuit category of magic, when Americans in the depths of the Great Depression were enthralled by the most improbable of Triple Crown winners. (By the way, thank you, Laura Hillenbrand, for one of the greatest sports books of all time.)

Could an auto racer, or even a football player, grip an entire nation? And champion horses don’t wallow in squalid public scandals or ever try to impress us with droll Twitter accounts.

I guess I am a bad fan, too nitpicky to just sit back and cheer like a good little spectator. It is the job of the appreciative crowd, after all, to be passive and enjoy while we forget about little things like the world falling apart.

Do you know what the Roman satirical poet Juvenal was getting at when he coined the phrase “bread and circuses”?

There is a broad misconception that he was criticizing authorities who tried to lull the public with diversion, keeping people passive by satisfying their basic need for food and entertainment. In truth, he was lampooning that public, which allowed itself to be lulled and gave up on its historic commitment to civic duty.

And while those citizens slept, Rome was transformed in just about 100 years from a free republic to an autocratic empire.

Wow, that took a bad turn, didn’t it? Yellow flag, there’s a crash on the curve ahead.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.



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