There are, not counting referees, ten men on the court. They are running around (quite literally), trying to get a ball through a hoop.
    On the rink (again, not counting referees—but counting goaltenders), there are twelve. They are on ice skates and trying to get a piece of hard rubber, useless in virtually any other situation, into a net.
    On a dirt diamond cut into a well-manicured field of grass, nine men wait anxiously for the moment when one man will (or will not) hit a ball with a stick.
    A field gridded with stripes is chewed up by the feet and shoulders and knees of almost twenty-five men. The men are orchestrating rather elaborate plans, alternatively trying to move a leather ball the length of the field and trying to keep it from being so moved.
    In each case, these small (dare I say “elite”) groups of men are surrounded by thousands of men, women, and children, all of whose current ambitions amount to one thing: watching the people on the court/rink/diamond/field. Thousands or hundreds of thousands more are watching the game as it is represented on televisions in their living rooms, bars, student centers, etc.

Spectator sports (and are there any other kind, these days?) are an interesting phenomenon to me. What sort of human dynamic is it that allows—or compels—this many of us to spend our time watching others compete? And seldom are they even competing for a tangible prize. At the end of the game, chances are, neither team will die. Chances are also good that neither team will instantly be given ridiculous sums of money, at least not for us to see. No, at the end of the game each team will generally retire to their respective locker room, shower, and go home to wives, kids, barbecues in the back yard. They will spend the next days/weeks preparing for just such another event.
    Sports are great entertainment, and by no means do I wish to knock that. But I am thoroughly intrigued by what really happens when we sit down to watch people play such competitive games. It seems to me that we, the audience, begin to lose our awareness of the people on the court as humans. They meld together, part of an event. Even the stars, who seem to stick out, are really only more prominent parts of the teams’ whole. Coaches, trainers, and referees are appendages and outgrowths (or tumors, sometimes).
    I wonder whether the same thing takes place in the opposite direction. Have you ever noticed how seldom anyone looks from the court into the stands? Virtually never. Only when something is happening in the stands that truly impedes the progress of the game. I love watching important football games, for one event: the moment, near the end of a close game, when the crowd will begin making so much noise that the quarterback cannot be heard by his own teammates. Play will stop. But still, no one will look into the stands, not really. They may look off the field in disgust, but this is not to be confused with looking into anything. This is a looking away from what is happening on the field. The crowd is not really made up of individual people, but rather the entire crowd is a single entity of the surrounding world, and an annoying entity for that time being. I am compelled to watch, unnerving though it is, every time.
    It is an incredible situation (incredible except that it happens with such regularity), the absolute distinction that takes place precisely at the edge of that court. There is no crossing that border. Not even for the random fan who manages to jump the fence and gain her fifteen seconds by running disruptively across the floor, or for the swarming crowds who occasionally destroy goal posts. These people have not crossed a physical border—they have undergone an entire transformation. It is, whether they realize it or not (and probably more of them do than do not, which is unique and good), a transcendental experience.


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