WEEKLY SPORTS WRAP-UP –  Feb 8th, 2007

In recent weeks, the debate over the validity of certain former athletes’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame of their respective sports have been a hot topic for sports radio talk.  One aspect of these conversations is the discrepancy of the selection processes of two particular sports, in particular baseball and football. 

In baseball, sports writers are to vote on the candidacy of players with the ability to judge them based on both their performance on the field as well as their behavior off it.  In football, a committee is selected to judge a candidate for the Hall based solely on his performance.  What is seemly an innocuous difference is more relevant than some might realize or even care to acknowledge.

Baseball’s image as the family pastime is apparent.  It is the game where going to the ballpark with the family is one of the more special moments in a child’s young life.  Little League: when eight- to ten-year-old children learn the basics of teamwork and work ethic.  This is when a boy’s life is seen through the hazily framed gaze of the mind’s eye.

The history of baseball is held in high regard within the framework of American history.  From the loss of innocence that stemmed from the Black Sox scandal of 1919, to the heroic precedence established by Jackie Robinson, to Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games played record, America’s moral standard has been linked to the sport.  Baseball was America’s first love, the one we’ll always remember in the stoic nostalgia of Ken Burns. 

But on the other side, stands football, the brutish game whose resemblance to warfare is stark and overwhelming.  The blitz, the sack, the bomb, the battle in the trenches, the lexicon that links the two is obvious.  The exponential growth in popularity of the sport can be traced to the start of the Cold War with the Soviets, when the search and destroy, defend and conquer mentality gripped the American conscious. 

High school tends to be the time when football takes over a young male’s passions.  A time when testosterone is firing off at an ungodly rate, the barbarism of football squashes the innocence long forgotten in Little League.  Sure, Pop Warner starts them off young, but it is high school football where the passion for it all is truly fortified.

These two sports represent the two halves of American moral identity.  The baseball Hall of Fame’s need to focus on the individual is similar to that of a child’s hope in his heroes, whereas football’s Hall is a meritocracy that damns the content of a man’s heart, as long as he can earn his franchise more money with his performance on the field. 

Whether or not this is all relevant in the grand scheme of things is not really the point.  These are, after all, just games that both turned into corporate monstrosities that propel the capitalistic machine of which we are all cogs, but the social significance within these machinations of capitalism is something that grew organically within American society.  That should be something most unsettling to a sports fan.