25 April 2014

It’s just a game

Paddy Lewis

1/02/2012 10:08:00 a.m.

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Sport Talk
BEFORE last week, I had never heard of Billy Cundiff.  If anyone had asked me who he was I would have guessed a B-movie actor.
I found out all about him as the Baltimore Ravens missed their chance to go to the Super Bowl.  Playing against the New England Patriots, the Ravens found themselves with an opportunity to tie the game and send it into overtime with just seconds to go.
Step up Billy Cundiff, the Ravens’ designated kicker.  His job was to take a 32 yard shot at goal from out in front. He has a career strike rate of nearly 80%.  He has also played for nine different NFL teams in 10 years (hmmmm).  Anyway, the ball came back, Cundiff ran in, and pushed it well to the left of the posts. I watched it and thought “poor bastard” and headed back into the office.
Then social media feeds exploded.  His facebook page had such gems as “you should shoot yourself but you’d probably miss’, lots of references to sexual stuff, and one person saying he was waiting outside Cundiff’s house.  It got even worse, with the Ravens’ own online store selling Cundiff’s jersey with the the note “this will be delivered…to the house to the left of yours”. Now Cundiff signed a $15 million five year contract last year, so while he will be down on it, the moment will eventually pass.  But the ferocity of the fan response left me speechless and a bit smug.
I talked to a mate about it and mentioned how it made us look like good sports.  He interrupted me and reminded me of the outpouring of hate after the defeat by France in the 1999 Rugby World Cup.  Players were threatened and abused, coach John Hart was spat on at Addington, and things got very out of hand.
We then went through a list and discovered we may be the worst losers in the world after all.  We can’t let it go.  Whether it is the All Blacks or some other poor unfortunate who happens to have got our hopes up only to dash them with a less than impressive performance (hi, Michael Campbell) we take it badly.
The advent of the internet and social media makes it worse, as things people would never say to someone’s face get spewed anonymously online. Rugby players, to choose the most obvious target, get well paid to do their job.  But with that comes a public microscope that can be harsh and unforgiving on performance or lack thereof.
The emotional involvement of those watching doesn’t help either. Passion can easily become hysteria.  Some of us forget that these guys aren’t going to save the world, create a vibrant and growing economy, or solve our law and order problems (some of them, in fact, add to our law and order problems). They are just sports people.  They’re no more momentous than any movie star, and certainly don’t have the importance of say, your local GP.
Sport is a wonderful thing.  It can stir the spirit, put you on a high, or teach you a lesson.  As much as I love all (OK, nearly all) sport, it is not a panacea.  It is entertainment, and just like other forms of entertainment, some of it you are going to love, and some of it you aren’t going to enjoy so much.
The key is to remember that it’s all just a game.  Not life or death.  Unless you’re Billy Cundiff and that guy really is outside your house.
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