Wasn’t it the Brits who muttered their wait to sports fairness standards? How did we Americans become so team-parity obsessed?
As a boomer, I grew up with a few great teams in various sports drubbing the feebs. It really did work. It really did fit American history and ideals. Yankees, Celtics, Cowboys, Lakers, Canadians, Packers and a small set of sports bullies were the top. It was as Willy S’s Cassius had it:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Instead, along the path of sports entertainment, the oligopolies and monopolies permitted by law as well as custom could not have that in the mundo world of advertising and broadcasting contracts. With millions to hundreds of millions of dollars looking for pockets, parity became the watchword. With artificial and intrusive aid, the very worst teams in a league were supposed to be pretty damned close to the very best. That resulted from business decisions, what would maximize the advertising and broadcasting cash flow. To hell with excitement and ideals!
Unlike the American cultural norms boomers heard from their WWII parents, survival of the fittest became everybody has a chance to be the winner. We saw that creeping pseudo-equality, feel-good artifices starting for us in the 1980s. Our first son went to the hippy-dippy Beacon Hill Nursery School and then played Little League on the Hill against other downtown teams. He was a member of the league championship team. What that really meant is that they always had at least one superior pitcher. That was by far the single victory margin…game, after game, after game. By the time second and third sons were playing soccer, the parity factor was in total control.
It was not at all like real life of business or even a decent college. There, brutal unfairness was the norm. Boss’ child? Fellow alumnus? Sorority sister? Trivial controlled the real.
In the 90s and beyond, on school and kid-sports levels, it mirrored the professional athletic world. With no intent to disparage the developmentally disabled, we can note that the aptest comparison is special Olympics. Everyone’s a winner. Everyone’s a medalist. We, as my eldest parroted his nursery school mates, have the same.
It was more elaborate and rigid in professional sports. Artificial mechanisms like salary caps, luxury taxes, and most heavy handed, player drafts that gave the teams with the worst records first pick of the college and high-school grads are now the norm. There was no attempt to disguise the aim. Even the poorest teams in the smallest markets were supposed to have what is euphemistically called a level playing field.
Back to the thrilling days of post-WWII America (for me) and earlier for my parents and grandparents’ generations, the best teams really did seem like dynasties. Lesser teams and their fans rejoiced if they beat one of the big kids. On those rare years when the traditional champions were not in the playoffs, there was Cinderella magic on the radio, TV, in the newspapers and surely in public conversation. There was that American set of ideasl of aspiration, of bettering oneself, of coming from low to climb high.You know, success through work and talent.
Now the best are severely punished. How dare they show up the petty men?
Maybe it was in part because I moved ever few years as a child. I would glom onto winning teams. Then I was a fan. My mother’s family came from the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia, with no professional sports, but close enough to D.C., Baltimore and with a stretch, Pittsburgh. Instead of those cities’ teams, I had the freedom of the nomad in picking my heroes, my champions. As a young’un, I’d stand up to my uncles, great-uncles and such with their fandom of the Orioles, Pirates, Senators, and Steelers and such. I’d recite the glories and stats of the Yankees, of Y.A. Tittle’s Giants and such. I was a sports slut, one who loved winners.
Those picnic debates no longer work. Not only are my great-uncles dead, but plastic parity humbles the mighty. It also robs the athletes and fans of both dreams and pride. Like the Japanese cliché that the nail that stands up will be pounded down, the parity police either did not know or lost the ideals of American culture, literature, theater, movies and television. We were a nation whose people won in the end despite shortcomings, being outnumbered, and without expectations of victory. Any American could succeed with determination, some luck, and relentless optimism.
We lost that and are poorer for it. We have the same.