Dear Dr. Boli: Can you explain professional sports to me? In my neighborhood right now, thousands of people are crammed into the bars on Carson Street watching grown men play football, which implies that you have to get drunk to watch football. But do you have to watch football to get drunk? Is there no other way? And why would anyone want to watch other people play games? I mean, wouldn’t you rather play the game yourself? Why would you pay somebody else to do it for you? Do you pay people to eat ice cream for you? Do you pay people to get drunk for you, if that’s your thing? So I can’t figure out professional sports, and I was wondering if you could explain them to me. —Sincerely, A Man Who Can’t Figure Out Professional Sports.
Dear Sir: Man, said Aristotle, is a political animal, by which he meant an animal that forms a πόλις, or city. The word “civilization,” by which we designate all the accomplishments we consider most indicative of our superiority over the beasts, means the formation of cities. Now, a cursory glance at the history of civilization will show us that the main activity of human beings once they have formed a city is to go to war against that other city over there. The civilizations of ancient Sumer, of Greece of the classic age, of Renaissance Italy were all formed by incessant war between cities.
Our modern civilization has formed larger empires and national units that include many cities, so as to enjoy certain economies of scale. Imagine the ruinous expense, for example, if London, Liverpool, Norwich, Canterbury, Edinburgh, Belfast, Toronto, Vancouver, Melbourne, Belize, and so on each had to support an entire royal family, instead of sharing a royal family spread out among fifteen countries, each an agglomeration of cities.
The instinct for war between cities, however, is set deep in human nature, and it cannot be eradicated by rational considerations of economy or national unity. Thus professional sports are necessary to keep the tradition of interurban warfare alive. The main difference is that professional sports, which require whole neighborhoods to be bulldozed for the construction of billion-dollar stadiums and arenas, are generally more costly and more destructive than an average interurban war.