Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what do sports tell us all?
I BEGAN broadcasting sports in 1930, and that's not yesterday. The United States was a different country then. The Great Depression was in full swing, and it wouldn't be erased until we were involved in World War II. There were only a few radio stations. There was no discussion about such a thing as television. And there was only one postseason college football game - the Rose Bowl. Life was much simpler in 1930. The Big Ten and the Ivy League played eight-game schedules, with Thanksgiving Day usually closing the season. Some schools played nine games. For years people at Ohio State (when I did many of their games, including the dramatic one in 1935 when Notre Dame won in the last minute, 18-13) told me that the Buckeyes and the other Big Ten schools would never play more than eight games, and never, never play in a bowl game. Notre Dame didn't accept bowl invitations.
In my early days, I came across a book that helped me form a philosophy about the sports I was announcing and the country I lived in. It was by Foster Rhea Dulles, and it was ``America Learns to Play.'' The author's theme was ``let me know the games a nation plays, the sporting events a nation attends, and I'll tell you about the people and their times.''
Today the sports that are successful quite often contain violence or at least serious physical contact. The single event that draws the largest crowd is the Indianapolis 500, and most people are there to see men racing at incredible speeds and at great danger. I saw this monstrous crowd sitting almost asleep until the caution light flashed - then as one, the thousands awoke, rose, and started looking to see where a crash had occurred.
Baseball is very successful, but it is not constructed to create danger to the bodies of the players. However, players get hit by fastballs, slide, and at times break legs, and collide with outfield walls. Nothing stimulates a crowd at the ballpark more than a players' brawl. Fans were always excited by the arguments of such managers as Leo Durocher and Earl Weaver with the umpires.
Basketball and hockey are very rough games. The two most violent sports we have are football and boxing, if you can define boxing as a sport. The overall objective in football is to score the most points, and the physical violence is a so-called byproduct. In boxing a prime objective is to deliberately do bodily damage. And the crowd goes wild when one man is bloodied, bewildered, and hammered into insensitivity. Then comes the cry, ``Kill him!'' When I saw bullfights in Spain and Mexico, the crowd yelled ``Ol'e!'' for the matador. I had heard far more ferocious yelling in this country.
Professional football is a dangerous business. Check the injuries game by game and some are very serious. These are big, strong, violent men, and they are trained to hit each other at full force. The college players are trained to perform in the same way, but the pros have been at it longer and are often bigger and faster.
Football and boxing draw the crowds and the television audiences. I think the basic reason for this attention is the vicarious violence of the spectator. We are physically safe from harm, but we are enthralled by trained athletes tackling, blocking, and in every way possible doing bodily damage.
Television exploded after World War II. Television brought the football games into national exposure, and even more, brought vast sums of money. The colleges knew that to get on TV you had to have a winning team. Any coach will tell you that to win you must have the horses. Many colleges, knowingly and cheerfully, turned their backs on whether their players could do the classroom work.There is now the invasion of drugs.
From one bowl game, the Rose, then to three more, Sugar, Orange, and Cotton, to now when we have so many end-of-the-year games that teams with unimpressive records play in them. We are moving into corporate sponsorship of these games, as witness the Fiesta Bowl, which is only nine years old yet able to raise the ante by millions of dollars because of corporate backing.
We will soon be saturated by the football games, both college and pro. The bowl games for the colleges, the playoff and championship games for the pros, leading to the Super Bowl.
Then April 6, 1987.
On this day, at Las Vegas, Nev., Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard will fght for the biggest money in boxing's history. Hagler has been guaranteed $12 million, Leonard $11 million, and each man is to receive a percentage of the gross.
Ringside tickets will be priced at $700. There will be the largest closed-circuit audience ever assembled. And all this in the face of what many experts say might well be a poor fight. Hagler, the middleweight champion, is 33, and his boxing skills are nearing an end. Leonard, 31, has fought only once in five years as the result of an eye injury that led to his now-ended retirement.
But the promoter, Bob Arum, knows his business. He expects this fight, despite the serious questions about it, to gross some $100 million.
With our exploding population, jet airplanes, Interstate highways, radio, television, and unlimited money, the book ``America Learns to Play'' is out of date and badly needs rewriting. But most of all, we need to be told what kind of people we are.