Big Sport is a corrupted, institutionalized version of True Sport, which often attempts to pass itself off as High Sport. It stands to High Sport and True Sport as a molded plastic angel does to sculpture and pottery. Occasionally there will be moments of High Sport or True Sport within the framework of Big Sport (as, for example, Spitz swimming in the Olympics, Gable wrestling there, Chamberlain winning the last playoff game for Los Angeles). Usually these are testimonials to individual perseverance and passion, to the ability of individuals to put up with institutional inefficiency and the institutional predilection for consistency and routine. Often High Sport performers are regarded as dangerous by Big Sport institutions, which prefer to deal with stars of their own making rather than self-made artists.
It was Big Sport that was exposed by reality this year. That so many apparent disasters—from the viewpoint of Big Sport institutions—should occur in such a relatively short space of time is not entirely coincidental. Many of the current crop of Big Sports are of much the same age and stage of development because the means and motives for easy, profitable institutionalizing of sport (improved communications, increased leisure and affluence) became available at about the same time. In the past 10 to 15 years these sports have flourished and spread across the land. Thus it is not surprising that corruption and decadence should become simultaneously evident. (The number of Big Sports we have nowadays is exceptional, but Big Sport itself is not a uniquely modern phenomenon. Falconry, jousting, gladiatorial combat and the ancient Olympics are but a few examples of sports institutionalized in past centuries and corrupted by the process.)
From a historical viewpoint, the future of most current Big Sport institutions seems dim and limited. Given the tenacity with which all institutions seek to preserve themselves and the considerable resources of many of our institutions, the NFL, NHL, NL, AL, NBA and the like may linger for some time. As they struggle to maintain themselves, it seems probable that they will be decreasingly concerned with sport and become increasingly showbiz operations, as professional wrestling, for example, already has.
Even if one feels strongly that the social landscape is cluttered with a lot of wasteful Big Sport institutions (which is how Senator Mike Mansfield says he feels about the Olympics and which is how some of Colorado's citizens felt in vetoing the '76 Games), it is not the sort of problem about which anything need be done. There is no urgent call to cancel checks to the Olympic Fund, organize a boycott of the World Series, strike against the NFL's TV sponsors. These things will take care of themselves; that is, the absurdities, greed and lethargy of the institutions will take care of them. After another few sessions such as were held in Munich, few people will care whether we send athletes to take part in these displays of politics, and few athletes will want to go.
When our present Big Sport institutions finally wither and collapse it will not seriously inconvenience any but the institutional cadres. Since even now they serve little purpose other than perpetuating themselves, these institutions will not be greatly missed. On the other hand, True Sport, which has always been needed, seems to be in as good or better shape than ever. Because True Sport is necessary and is useful, it would appear to have about the same survival prospects as those of man himself.