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Michael Mandelbaum: An understanding of the experiences of team sports


The Meaning of Sports

What is the meaning of sports? Why do they mean so much to us?

Why do you and I invest so much time, money and emotional energy in following them?

These are some of the questions Michael Mandelbaum attempts to answer in his book, ‘The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do.’

Mandelbaum’s publication is divided into four chapters, three of which devote themselves to each of the team sports that dominate the American hemisphere. The first chapter deals exclusively with the questions outlined at the beginning of this article.

I have attempted to present a synopsis of this segment of this work.

Team Sports

According to Mandelbaum, baseball, basketball and football are modern creations.

Team sports have become popular as childhoods have grown lengthier in the modern age. Children no longer help out in farms and at work and thus have more leisure time than earlier. Childhood is now the most enjoyable phase of an individual’s life and it is nostalgia for a pleasant, carefree time of life that sustains interest in games into adult lives.

Schools have taken over from hearth and home when it comes to teaching skills that need to be used in the workforce. It is also the institution where organized  games are first encountered.

The growth of American cities are crucial in the rise of team sports.

The transport revolution made these sports a national phenomenon. This also led to  a series of similar formats and uniform standards given expectations of similar quality.

Sports and Organized Religion

Mandelbaum compares sports to organized religion.

Because they share the following features:

  1. They address needs of the spirit and psyche rather than those of the flesh.
  2. They don’t bear directly on basic needs namely food and shelter.
  3. They are outside the working world.
  4. They are a welcome diversion from the routines of daily life, models of coherence and clarity and have heroic examples to admire and emulate.

Drama and Coherence

Sport is a way of ‘disporting’ i.e. diverting oneself.

Human being need to be diverted from the wears and cares of modern life.

We seek diversion in staged drama.

Drama is simply tension and its release, that is, uncertainty ultimately relieved by a definite conclusion.

Sports provide audiences compelling drama.

Outcomes are unknown—for both individual games and the season.

Team sports are epics. Their protagonists overcome a series of challenges to meet their ultimate goals.

Coherence is another basic human need.

All cultures seek order and intelligibility.

Team sports is a low or “mass” form of art accessible to the majority of society. They are supremely coherent. They provide a haven from the vagaries of modern life.

Games are models of coherence.

They are transparent and they are definitive.

Hence, their appeal.

Sports and Hollywood

Team sports have evolved much like Hollywood.

At first, the major production companies were all-powerful. They decided which movies were to be made and who would feature in them.

Now, it is the actors who are arbitrators. They rule tinsel town and command astronomical fees.

Similarly, team owners were omnipotent—at first. But now, players rule the roost and decide which sides they turn out for.

Labor in movies and sports cannot be readily replaced. The best performers enjoy enormous leverage. The public pays to watch them.

Sports stars, unlike movie stars, are real and spontaneous. Sports supplies heroes.

Heroes are objects of admiration and emulation. They can be exceptions or exemplars. The latter embody virtues that everyone can aspire to and everybody can practice.

Sports stars are both.

Extraordinary mortals yet role models.

They display diligence and performance under pressure.

These are qualities much suited to the modern world. Who wouldn’t want to be described as diligent and yet graceful under fire?

Sports stars, however, possess a narrow range of skills. They are specialists—outstanding ones.

Equality and Competition in Sports

America is a democratic country.

Costumes (uniforms) worn by participants reflect its social egalitarianism. They express equality.

Team sports also express the principle of merit.

No side begins with an advantage. The score is always 0-0 at the start.

Preference is for achieved status.

Team sports is a division of labour.

It has two main parts: Specialization and Interdependence.

No player can win a game singlehandedly. Each team needs to cooperate within themselves.

Each game and each series also embody the opposite principle: Competition.

This is a parallel to modern life.

Everyone who works in an office or factory is a part of a team. These teams compete with other teams to survive and prosper in the marketplace.

Rule of Law

Rules are overridingly important in sports.

Rules, like laws, have three main properties:

  1. Universality: they apply equally to all players and citizens.
  2. Transparency: they are known to all.
  3. Legitimacy: they are accepted as binding.

Referees and umpires are the equivalent of judges.

Clarity and simplicity of rules in these three sports distinguish them from individual sports such as diving, gymnastics, figure skating or even boxing. There is very little discretion applied by officials.

Questioning and protesting an official’s decision is actively discouraged. Players can be removed from games if they are felt to have transgressed a certain boundary.

The most serious attack on the integrity of the game is not when an individual or a team tries too hard to win but when a player or group of players deliberately set out to lose.

When a contest is ‘fixed’, its outcome pre-decided, it is no longer a game. Cheating is thus the ultimate sin. This is the reason why doping in athletes is met with virulent condemnation.

Equality and Merit

Equality of opportunity and merit are deeply ingrained in North Americans.

The US is more deeply committed to ensuring the wherewithal needed to take advantage of opportunities.

The amateur draft and salary cap are the mechanisms used in professional leagues to restrict the role of the free market and make teams more evenly matched on the field.

European societies, on the other hand, are more committed to equality of results i.e., draws or ties are more common in games like soccer, cricket and rugby.

Integration and Division

Overseas, identification with teams has a polarising effect.

You support one side and rail against the other.

Team sports reflect and aggravate social and political divisions.

Not so, in the States.

They are both sources of integration and division.

They promote social solidarity.

American team sports do not have international competitions. They are self-contained.

These games are barely played elsewhere.

There is very rarely violence visited on team competitions. If fights break out, they occur over high school games.

Geographic mobility is a part of an American’s life.

He or she will move for college education and jobs—several times in their lives.

So too sportspersons.

High school teams may have co-located players.

But colleges and professional sides draw upon persons from all over, even overseas.

Professional sports are also melting pots for various ethnic groups, much like the larger cities.

Sports is thus a microcosm of cosmopolitan America.


The above are similes and metaphors for why sports is so important to sports lovers and what it actually means to all of us. Some metaphors could apply to other societies as well. It would be interesting to compare the reasons why sports in gaining traction in India as an industry to its evolution in the States. The proliferation of leagues in multiple sports as vehicles to promote them and provide means of livelihood to many is a recent phenomenon. Are there more parallels than differences?

Some metaphors may resonate with you more than others. Some of them might make you think. Aloud.

I know it certainly struck a chord with me and opened my eyes as to how and why sports can be a way of uniting rather than dividing. Sports recognizes no class barriers—in theory.

I hope you enjoy reading this piece as much as I did Mandelbaum’s chapter. If you don’t, blame me and not Mandelbaum!

Priyanka Chopra: What she said, really meant and definitely didn’t


English: Laila Ali in A Pea in the Pod

English: Laila Ali in A Pea in the Pod (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Priyanka Chopra

English: Indian actress Priyanka Chopra

English: Indian actress Priyanka Chopra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What she said:

“Today, I can beat (up) anyone, it feels great.”

Actress and pop diva Priyanka Chopra confesses that she draws some satisfaction from her new-found ability to physically match almost anyone post training for the title role of her latest film, ‘Mary Kom’.

Chopra was all laughs claiming that building the muscles for the role “tired her”.

“But it was worth it! Building muscles can’t make you feel empowered, but stronger. I did! I have lost all my muscle now, but I still feel strong. I still believe I have those muscles. Muscles are a very superficial thing. What they did for me, honestly, was being able to learn a sport. I’ve never learnt a sport in my life. That too a contact sport. For me, it was a huge challenge to learn an entire sport. Today, you can put me in a boxing ring. I may not be able to beat another boxer, but I’ll be able to give her a tough fight. I’ve learnt it that much.”

The thespian now believes that every woman should learn some form of self-defence.

“I think girls should be able to do what they want, be free and not be worried about protecting themselves. But I think that in the world that we live in today, unless the laws that have been made to protect us have been implemented well enough, we should learn some form of self-defence just for confidence. You may not be able to beat a guy who’s coming at you, but you’ll be able to put up a fight. And that can really scare some people off. So, with that, you will be able to put up a fight, and say, ‘You cannot take advantage of me’. For some, that power comes from the gym. But one has to find an individual source. For me, it came from being agile, from learning this new sport.”

Meanwhile, Mary Kom, was all praise for Priyanka Chopra’s work in the biopic.

“Priyanka did a great job. I am very happy for her. She is the best person to fit in the role.Priyanka did hard work, and you can see the muscles.”

The five-time World champion believes that her sport—boxing— should be promoted like kabaddi and soccer.

“If people like it (film) then it could happen. Promotion is necessary. Just like kabbadi and football. The country is getting medals in individual sports like archery, weightlifting, wrestling, and with promotion more medals could come in future.”

What Priyanka Chopra really meant:

“Now, I can get my own back on anybody who messes with me—by knocking them flat on their backs. ‘Chops’ is for real.”

What she definitely didn’t:

“Watch out, Laila Ali—here I come.”

IPL-Bollywood Points Table: Winners and Losers


IPL-Bollywood Points Table

Star Played Won Points
Shilpa Shetty at the IIFA Awards

Image via Wikipedia

Shilpa Shetty

13 5 (1 NR) 11
Shahrukh Khan during filming at Kennedy Space ...

Image via Wikipedia

Shah Rukh Khan

13 8 16
Indian actress Preity Zinta

Image via Wikipedia

Preity Zinta

13 7 14

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BCCI takes nutritional issue with MS Dhoni (Humour)


It has been learnt, from undisclosed (unreliable) sources, that the meeting the selectors (namely Krishnamachari Srikkanth) and a BCCI official had with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gary Kirsten last week was not about team selection (as widely reported in the press) but about nutritional matters.

The BCCI is worried that about the type of endorsements Indian cricketers have taken on  and the non-salutary effect it has had on their diet and hence their on-field performance.

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Lalit Modi, Cheerleaders and Bollywood Culture: A Modern Tale (Satire)


Oct 24, 2008; London, ENGLAND; Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi during The Global Sport Summit Innovation vs.tradition: The quest for growth at The Landmark. Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom

I had just stepped out of Bandra station after having climbed up and down the railway bridge. Globus, the retail outlet, were having a huge season-ending sale and I was in a tearing hurry to get there. All I needed was a rickshaw to get me to my destination. It was then that I noticed the ruckus.

A huge crowd was blocking the entrance and exit  to and from the terminus. Cries of ‘Hai! Hai!” and “Down with cultural imperialism” rent the air. There were a few  interspersed “Go Back”s as well.

I was  irritated. “What the hell was going on? Was this my unlucky day?” I thought.

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Venky’s chicken takes over Blackburn Rovers: New Product Ideas (Satire)


Football - Manchester City v Blackburn Rovers Barclays Premier League - The City of Manchester Stadium - 2/5/09..A Blackburn Rovers fan Photo via Newscom

The news that Indian poultry giant Venkateshwara Hatcheries (VH) affectionately known to all as Venky’s chicken, struck a deal to take over BlackBurn Rovers , an English Premier League (EPL) team has come like a thunderbolt out of the blue.

This is a wonderful time for Indian companies making their presence felt across the international sporting arena.

The Indian Premier League is the second most expensive league in the world.

Force India is Vijay Mallya’s acquisition in the Formula 1.

And now Blackburn Rovers joins the stable of notable sporting buyouts.

Well, if you can’t beat them, let’s buy them is a mantra that is easy to follow!

The acquisition of Blackburn Rovers and the sizeable Asian population there leads Venky’s strategic marketing advisors to look for synergies between the historic footballing franchise and the poultry giant.

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Indian cricket: Asia Cup Team Selection


Yuvraj Singh batting at Adelaide Oval

Image via Wikipedia

The Indian cricket team for the Asia Cup in Dambulla from June 15 to June 28 has been announced.

There are no real surprises in the team selection bar the much expected(?) dropping of Yuvraj Singh and the resting of Sachin Tendulkar at his own request.

Yusuf Pathan has been dropped purportedly because of his inability to play short-pitched bowling. I guess the ones without a godfather are the first ones to feel the selector’s ire.

Quote of the day:
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. – Abraham Lincoln

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Disastrous run at World T20!


Harbhajan Singh - Ind Vs Eng,Mumbai, March 29,...

Image via Wikipedia

With India’s 2 matches of the Super 8 match over and with them effectively India’s hopes of qualifying for the semis,  it is time to make a couple of points about India’s no-show at this tourney.

1> The standard of cricket exhibited at the IPL and the World T20 are reams apart. In the latter, we have the best teams representing their country, whereas the IPL teams are constrained to having just 4 foreign internationals representing them and at the same time they need to ensure that deserving youngsters (read youngsters with potential) are given a chance to ware their talents. So suddenly we have our IPL heroes peppered with short-pitched balls and when you are a team batting second and chasing a  large total, you have to try and hit every ball and the proclivity to succumb to the short-pitched variety is both exposed and exploited. Besides, since when have Indian batsmen known to be masters of the short ball?

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Urbanomics: Is Sachin Tendulkar "choking" his opponents into submission?


Urbanomics: Is Sachin Tendulkar “choking” his opponents into submission?

Is there something about high-performing stars having an adverse effect on their opponents?
Do not their opponents rise to the challenge?
Is there not a case for improving one’s game in the presence of greats?
Maybe not!

Have a great day!

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IPL Musings


Mumbai Indians

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