PLATO WOULD HAVE APPROVED
Some people think that sports is a frivolous and unworthy preoccupation, but the Rev. James Schall, a professor of political science at Georgetown, strongly disagrees. Speaking at a recent journalism ethics conference at the University of Nevada-Reno, underwritten by the Gannett Foundation, Schall offered observations calculated to allay any guilt that, because of involvement in mere games, may be felt at times by:
Fans. Maintaining that watching sports is the closest most people ever get to doing anything resembling the true Greek meaning of contemplation, Schall said, "The attraction of the game to so many ordinary people in so many cultures over so long a period of time reveals something extraordinarily important about us."
Sportswriters. "It is a commonplace how many good political and social columnists and thinkers began their writing on the sports pages. They were learning about what fascinates men, what they think is important."
Participants. The people who engage in sports, Schall said, "either win or lose, play fair or cheat. Where there's a possibility of cheating...we're being tested about what we are, what we reveal about ourselves in our action."
In summation, Schall said that "in many, many ways, sports is the closest thing we encounter to the highest philosophical thing." Which is just what all those guys who spend the weekend propped in front of the tube with their beer and popcorn have been trying to tell their wives all along.
Whether or not the NBA Players Association goes ahead with its threat to strike, the league's current labor dispute has produced its share of aphorisms and one-liners. Noting that the league had ruled that owners making unauthorized comments regarding negotiations were subject to a $250,000 fine, Golden State Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli said, "That shows how important we are. The other sports imposed fines of only $100,000." Emphasizing the union's desire to maintain the status quo, Warriors player rep Purvis Short said, with eloquent succinctness, "What we want is what we got." Pacers Forward Marty Byrnes, who spent the 1981-82 season in minor league basketball, said, "I was on strike all last year, so I don't want to do it again." And 76er Center Moses Malone, asked if NBA players are worth the money they've been paid in recent years, replied, "Owner thinks it's cool, it's cool."
Last week women's basketball took a giant step backward—in time, that is—to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the first formal game played by females. The current varsities at Smith and Wellesley donned 1890s-style uniforms and reenacted a game played in Northampton, Mass. on March 22, 1893, when the Smith freshman class defeated the Smith sophomore class 5-4 after 30 minutes of play. And you thought Dean Smith could stall.
About the only thing the original game had in common with the modern version was scoring baskets. The ball was a rugby ball. The uniforms incorporated billowy bloomers, tights and a long-sleeved pinafore top, an ensemble ill-suited to the fast break. That didn't matter, because players weren't allowed to roam freely, anyway. Each team had nine players—three forwards, three centers and three guards—and the court was divided into thirds, with the forwards confined to this section, the centers to that and the guards to the one over there. There was no dribbling, which made it a passing game—but no bounce passes, please. And heaven forbid that a player do anything as wild as hugging the ball to her body after catching it. Hands only, ladies. The ball was passed back and forth from section to section until a forward got an open shot at the basket.