Column: Playing Politics – A Silly Game

Dreaming of a day when politics are taken as seriously as sports
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Whether your candidates won or lost this week, we can all rejoice that it’s finally over. Or, we think it is. We can’t be sure anymore, can we?

Watching the political contests and the sporting contests this week, I got to thinking: Which is sillier: playing politics, or playing sports?

As silly as sports are – and I seem to devote half my commentaries to that very subject – after watching the 2012 campaigns, I can tell you, it’s not even close: Playing politics is sillier, in a landslide.

In the sporting world, you’re not supposed to badmouth your opponent, or even talk about them very much. Coaches always say, “I’m just focusing on my team.” And then – amazingly – that’s what they actually do.

In politics, badmouthing the other guy is just about all they do. And if there is any expectation of clean play anymore, I must’ve missed it – along with just about every single candidate.

In sports, you cannot blame the weather. The coaches’ cliché here goes like this: “Both teams played on the same field, didn’t they?” In politics, they start blaming the weather before they’ve even lost.

In sports, when a coach changes his strategy repeatedly, they don’t call him a flip-flopper. They call him a former coach. If only that were true in politics.

In sports, if you whine about the referees – no matter how bad they might be – they call you, well, a whiner. Which kind of makes sense. In politics, when they’re not badmouthing each other, they’re crying about Rush Limbaugh and Fox News on one side, and Ed Schultz and MSNBC on the other. But forget the refs. In politics, they can’t even agree on the score – or even when the game is over.

Football, hockey and even baseball have recently added instant replay to ensure they make the right call. Yes, the delays are annoying – but not as annoying as watching a candidate deliver whopper after whopper, only to hear the political pundits tell us they’re curious to see what the fact checkers will make of all that – in a few days. By then, of course, the lies have already circled the globe a few times.

Fact checkers? I’m old enough to remember what we used to call them: “Journalists.” If it’s not the pundit’s job to know what the facts are, what is his job? Is he just a game show host, who passes every tricky question to the “judges”? Wink Martindale can do that.

But the craziest difference between sports and politics is how they treat their audience. In sports, they want you to come see their team, and they make it easy. But in politics, after they bombard you with billions of dollars of ads to get you interested, they make you wait five hours to play. You know it’s bad when we look forward to ads about elections being replaced for ads about erections. (Remember, if your election lasts more than four years, consult your poll worker.)

When it comes to voting, forget comparing our election system to those of third world banana republics. Even the almost-defunct National Hockey League – currently on the verge of canceling another season – makes it easier to vote for the All-Star team than our government makes it to pick the leader of the free world.

Let that sink in.

We like to say sports teach us lessons we can use later in life – but that’s not true if you become a politician. Then, you take everything that sports taught you – and do the exact opposite: focus on your opponent, not your own game; deny reality, including the score; and after you lose, blame everyone – even the refs and the weather – before you blame yourself.

I dream of a day when we take politics as seriously as we take sports.

About the author: John U. Bacon is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football.” He also co-authored “A Legacy of Champions,” and provided commentary for “Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game.”

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One Comment

  1. By DrData
    November 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm | permalink

    I think many people do takes politics seriously. On a small scale, sports and politics are very similar, at least among men.

    There’s an article about how men react to politics and sports in the same way – rising testosterone levels as their team (political or sports) wins. The men whose team lost experienced a drop in testosterone levels. And, women did not react at least as shown by increase/decrease in testosterone levels.

    Here’s the link to the article – based on the 2008 election: [link]