BOSTON — The underlying problem with bowling is that there is no problem with bowling. Regardless, bowling always acts as if it's a malfunction to be fixed, which it is not, rather than a joy to be experienced, which it is.
It's the only entity in the world with a bigger inferiority complex than Canada. In truth, bowling should be strutting and pounding its chest because it is in many ways, once you can get the pseudo-sophisticates and alleged intellectuals to shut up about it, our perfect sport.
After all, it can be done by people who are very young up to those very old. Poor are equal to the wealthy in bowling because it's cheap to take part. Men and women enjoy it in similar numbers and can compete together. You can play for a few minutes or for hours, frequently or infrequently. There is wonderful camaraderie. You can succeed at it with minimal athletic talent. It's simple, yet there can be complex strategy and scientific technique. It is unabashed fun.
And a true plus in much of the nation much of the year - it's played indoors.
Whoops, not exactly.
Comes now the news that the Professional Bowlers Association plans to hold the finals of a bowling tournament May 1 outdoors, in New York City's Bryant Park.
Why? "Because," says PBA spokesman Dave Schroeder, "it hasn't been done before." Yeah, well, neither has the Masters golf tournament been played on a pitch-and-putt course in Sheboygan.
An earthshaking change in something as magnificent as bowling needs careful thought. Putting bowling outside is like putting peanut butter on crme brle. You can do it but, yuk, it's not good.
At root, bowling is doing this because it can. Somewhere, the storied bowling greats - all-time title winner Earl Anthony (41 wins), Mark Roth, Dick Weber, Nelson Burton Jr., Don Carter - are thinking gutter ball. The idea, Schroeder says, is to put up what will amount to a circus big top over four lanes and perhaps 1,000 seats.
Bingo, we are transported to the circus and the carny barker: "Step right up, pay your money, and come right in. See the two-headed, tap-dancing giraffe that gave birth to a hippopotamus that whistles and needlepoints. Yes, sir."
Naw, this isn't what we want for bowling.
Bowling is no freak show. Rather, it's simple, and unlike most of our lives, conclusive. You knock down all the pins or you don't. If you don't, you get a second try. Fail again, and you get to start over. That's good.
Bowling, for all its many wonders, continues to fight the battle of calling attention to itself. It feels it deserves more viewers and more participants. It does. But it also needs to be happy with what it has. The National Sporting Goods Association says 53.3 million Americans bowl while only 46.1 million play basketball, 42.1 million fish, and, gratefully, only 36.1 million waste their lives on treadmills.
Annual prize money for the pro tour is approaching $8 million. Leading career money winner Walter Ray Williams Jr. is way beyond $2 million in winnings. This is neither oblivion nor chopped liver.
Twenty-five pro tournaments were on national television this year, including nine on CBS. And the ratings have always been good. Why not? We love bowling. So maybe we don't admit it publicly, but at core, bowling is us. What we really want for Christmas is a bowling shirt inscribed on the back: "Mike's Towing Service and Screen Door Repair."
In Greendale, Wis., people at Bowling Headquarters say a recent survey shows that 222 million Americans have bowled, about 85 percent of the populace. All this represents a lot of strikes and not so many splits. Perhaps bowling is not Miss America, but it's not mud wrestling, either, OK?
Another survey shows that 56.2 percent of bowlers live in households with incomes above $35,000, compared with only 44.2 percent of nonbowlers. Maybe all bowling needs is a new slogan: "Bowl and Be Rich."
Bowling thinks big-deal advertising execs will see the game played outside in Manhattan and presumably say, "Ah, much better." No they won't.
Regardless, bowling is approaching its outdoor debut with typical self-deprecation. Says Schroeder, "We assume it's going to rain."
* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org