SI Vault
William O. Johnson
December 23, 1974
Umpires may be replaced by sensors, football scored like figure skating, tennis played in the nude and butterflies used as game balls
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December 23, 1974

From Here To 2000

Umpires may be replaced by sensors, football scored like figure skating, tennis played in the nude and butterflies used as game balls

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Perhaps a more probable addition to Technosport spectating is something that might be called Democracy Football. It is a Monday night in November, 1999, and the Houston Oilers are about to play the Chicago Bears. In this scenario there are 556,191 homes in Houston with television sets, each equipped with a console containing rows of multicolored buttons. Each viewer has a playbook for the Oiler offense, a playbook for the defense. In Chicago there are 817,911 TV homes, each identically equipped, except, of course, the viewers have Bear playbooks. Now the official flips the coin. Heads for Houston. The Houston viewers vote by pushing a button—529,876 to receive, one (idiot!) to kick off. The vote is instantly counted, computerized, flashed into the helmets of the Houston team. The Democracy Football game is under way. A Houston back returns the kick off to his 38-yard line. All over Houston viewers consult their playbooks (they have one minute) and then they press a combination of buttons to call a play. Instantaneously, the computer totals the Oiler fan-coaches' votes: 307,278 vote for a zig-out pass into the left flat to the tight end; 121,908 for an off-tackle slant to the right with the fullback carrying; 100,689 for a sweep to the right; one man votes for a quick kick (same idiot). Meanwhile, all of Chicago is voting on which defense to use and the plurality—315,924—pushes buttons calling for a four-three-four.

The wishes of the Oiler TV fans are relayed to the Houston quarterback's helmet. He cannot disobey, of course. He calls the pass to the flat. The Oilers move to the line of scrimmage. The Bears go into the defensive formation their fans have called. The Oilers try the prescribed pass to the left flat. It is knocked to the ground by a Bear linebacker. Houston moans, Chicago cheers. It is second and 10. The viewers vote. And so it goes. Houston plays Chicago, literally citizen against citizen. Thus would Technosport produce a technological miracle of something which might hitherto have been thought a contradiction in terms: Spectator-Participation.

Now Ecosport. Here we have the other extreme, for technology and artificiality are abhorred, disdained. Ecosport consists of natural play, unstructured, free-blown. Its games are open, flowing, perhaps without boundaries, often without rules, usually without scoreboards, sometimes without end or middle or measurable victory. Everyone participates and the overriding slogan might well be, "If a sport is worth playing, it is worth playing badly."

Many think there will be a massive new enthusiasm for natural sport. Michael Novak, author and philosopher, says, "A convulsion is coming, an attempt to throw off the corporation and professionalization—to shake off the cold hand of the 20th century—and return sports to their primitive vigor." The chairman of the Human Development program at the University of Chicago with the incredible name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, says: "We have moved from spontaneity to point ratings, from individual talent to computerized cards. There are far more statistics than heroics in sports and I think there will be a reaction against all this, a change back to naturalness."

In the era of Ecosport men may not only begin to doubt the famed Vince Lombardi motto, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," they may actually swing around to Author George Leonard's proclamation that, "Winning is not only not everything, winning is not anything." As John McMurtry, a philosopher from Canada's University of Guelph, said during a sports symposium last year: "Actually, the pursuit of victory works to reduce the chance for excellence in the true performance of the sport. It tends to distract our attention from excellence of performance by rendering it subservient to emerging victorious. I suspect that our conventional mistake of presuming the opposite—presuming that the contest-for-prize framework and excellence of performance are somehow related as a unique cause and effect—may be the deepest-lying prejudice of civilized thought.... Keeping score in any game—especially team games—is a substantial indication that the activity in question is not interesting enough in itself to those who keep score."

The forms of Ecosport will be enormously varied. Soccer, which may be one of the Big Four in America within a decade, is an offspring of Ecosport, for it is flowing, natural and played by men who are built on a human scale and need no sophisticated equipment. The fine and gentle pastimes will increase, such as orienteering, hiking, non-competitive swimming.

The emphasis in Ecosport is on unstructured play. Perhaps the ultimate event in such a scenario is something one may call the Never Never Game, since it is a sport invented on the spot for a given afternoon, something that was never, never played before and will never, never be played again. The Never Never Game eliminates all specialists, all statistics. It demands the ordinary all-round person, the average man, since one can never know what skills will be demanded in the game of the day.

The Never Never Game: It is a soft sunny afternoon and on a meadow somewhere in the U. S. about 100 people—men, women, children—have gathered. They separate into two groups, approximately equal, and a man carries a small container filled with beads of half a dozen different colors. Under his arm he has the Never Never Game Book. This book is filled with myriad possibilities for games—one section has different kinds of balls or stones or items to be used, another section has lists of field sizes and shapes, another the rules of play for many games. Each of the different items in each section is identified with a color combination. The man in the center of the meadow reaches into the Never Never bead jar and without looking takes out a handful of beads and throws them on the ground. The colors are two reds, a yellow, four blues, a white, two greens. In the Never Never Book section on "game balls" he finds "a disk the size of a pie plate" next to this color combination. He throws more beads on the ground, finds that the combination in the "field size" section calls for a circular area 300 yards in diameter. More beads: the game will last three hours. More beads: players will hop on one leg. They will use forked sticks to carry the disk to the perimeter of the field. When one player carries the disk through the other team he may hop on either leg but when two players share in carrying the disk with their forked sticks they may both use both legs—etc., etc.

After consultation to arrange tactics and review the rules, the Never Never Game begins. After three hours it is over. The score is inconsequential, no records are kept, and no specialists are discovered or developed. Everyone has played, some better in this Never Never Game than in another. This game will never be played again. The next Never Never Game may involve flocks of butterflies as the "game ball," perhaps a net across the field with which to catch them, perhaps balloons to fend off the other team's butterflies. Who knows? Who cares? The point of Ecosport—as of all sport—is to play, to enjoy, to exist.

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