Friday, October 16, 2009

We're an Arbitrary, Meaningless Way!!!

In the aftermath of President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Jonathan Chait has penned an entertaining attack on awards. Happily, there is college football content:

Some years later, Gino Toretta of the University of Miami won the 1992 Heisman Trophy, which goes to the best college football player. Toretta was approximately the third-best player—at his position, within his state. He was probably one of the worst starters on his own team. Toretta went on to be selected in the next-to-last round of the NFL draft, where — without suffering any major injuries — he completed a total of five passes in his career.

There is also a passage that hits a little close to home:

Yet awards provide emotional responses — gratification, victimization, schadenfreude — that makes the ritual perversely compelling. Understanding that the process is fatally flawed, or even corrupt, seems to do nothing to diminish its appeal. Those most convinced that, say, the Oscars do a horrible job of rating films are the very people who cling to their emotional investment in the outcome.

How is it that I have complete disdain for the Heisman Trophy and yet I frequently find myself arguing about the injustice that no Tennessee or Alabama players have ever won it? If the award is a meaningless statue given to an unjustifiably small subset of college football players and is governed by a set of irrational and indefensible rules, then why do I care?

And this observation was especially interesting to me:

Our mania for awards stems from a desire to sift through a chaotic world and impose linearity and a singular winner.

Can't we say the same thing about our desire to label one team as a "champion" at the end of a season? After all, what is the national title but another award? Dozens of college football teams play dozens of games for four months and then at the end, because we have to impose order on a disordered world, we declare that one team is the "champion" and then spend decades arguing about whether the right team won. American pro sports are worse, as they all involve a long regular season followed by a short playoff, at the end of which there is an arbitrary "champion" that is often demonstrably inferior to other teams in the league.

Why do we feel the need to have a defined champion at the end of a season? Is it because we feel the need to impose the structure of an individual game upon a season, such that there must be a winner? Is it because we want sports to mimic society and society is governed by laws? Is it a nefarious plot on the part of apparel companies, who would have a hard time selling "Georgia: Really Good Season in 2007" shirts? Is it, as Chait suggests, an attempt to impose order in a world where chaos reigns?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

can you believe a girl is reading about football. lol :) i can't help it i love it!

mandie reed