Maybe so, but that's a mighty fancy wash.
JOUEZ BALL, Y'ALL
Softball is having an identity crisis. The sport is governed by the International Softball Federation, which the U.S. Olympic Committee refers to in its current directory as the F�d�ration Internationale de Softball. The federation's secretary general, Don E. Porter, whose office is in decidedly un-Gallic Oklahoma City, calls that listing a mistake and allows that the "Jouez ball, y'all" jokes prompted by the error are starting to wear thin.
"The IOC always puts everything in French and English," says Porter. "I guess when the USOC put our organization in their Olympic material this year, they just copied the French title from the IOC's book. The organization was never in France. It started in New Jersey."
That isn't the end of Softball's identity problem. Recently, Porter, whose federation now encompasses 55 countries, made an unsuccessful pitch to the IOC's program commission to have women's Softball declared an official sport at the 1992 Summer Games, assuming there will be a 1992 Summer Games. The program commission chairman is M. Vitaly Smirnov of the Soviet Union, which isn't one of the 55 member countries. Porter shudders when he recalls the confrontation: "The last question he asked me was, 'What's the difference between a Softball and the shotput?' I said, 'About 15� pounds.' I figured we were in trouble."
Sports came in for something of a beating at a recent gathering of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles, particularly the great American pastime of sitting around for hours and hours in front of a TV set watching sports instead of taking part in them. "We don't have sport for sport's sake," complained Dr. Robert E. Gould, talking principally of contact sports and the low-level violence watchers wallow in. "In many ways, sport has been turned into a brutal, commercialized aspect of our society. The viewers and players have become corrupted. It's a sickness in our society." Dr. Natalie Shainess agreed, saying, "Sports are selling aggression and fantasized superiority." Dr. Silas L. Warner said, "Many admire this macho style and try to emulate it. They soon learn that rules are only temporary impediments. There are always ways around them, and, most importantly, the end justifies the means." Dr. Nathan Roth said, "Spectators...are working at overcoming the great American disease—loneliness."
Ouch. But wait. Dr. Roy Whitman, director of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Medical School, dissents from the somber comments made in Los Angeles. "To point the finger at sports is unwarranted," he says. A letterman in tennis and swimming in college, Whitman says he likes to watch sports, to the extent of sitting for hours in front of the TV during an event like the Super Bowl, and he doesn't feel corrupted.
"I say that sports build up self-esteem," Whitman argues. "You get a vicarious gratification out of identifying with various participants. You discharge feelings of pent-up hostility or aggression, which we all have."
He does say that people ought to be physically active in at least one sport or pastime and not be passive spectators all the time, but he thinks his fellow shrinks' characterization of sports fans is vastly overdrawn. "The word 'sickness' is often used by people to label something they disagree with," he says.