I’m an easygoing sort.
You know, placid. Calm. Laid-back. Unemotional. Full of reason and restraint. Not prone to hyperbole or overstatement. A take-things-as-they-come kind of guy.
Except . . .
Except when someone says something like the following: “Well, you know, sports is just another form of entertainment.”
That’s when I lose it.
If there’s one thing that I know for sure, it is that Sport, capital S, is sport, and Entertainment, capital E, are not the same. Repeat, n-o-t, not the same. They may share certain characteristics, but they are not the same.
Not that any proof was needed, but the events of this past week will serve as a very suitable Exhibit A to illustrate my point.
You may have heard about it. Late last Monday evening, Eastern time, a professional football game ended in a manner that created a true national stir. It’s hardly necessary to go into the particulars. We all know what happened.
But it’s what took place afterward that intrigues me, because the reaction to what happened on that football field in Seattle is what demonstrated the vast difference between Sport and Entertainment. Sport is about competition, which, ultimately, means winning and losing. Entertainment, and by that I would include books, movies, theater, concerts, and museum-going, to name a few, is about having a good time.
It is no stretch to say that the ending of the Packers-Seahawks game created a phenomenal national dialogue. Scores of major American dailies had it on the front page Tuesday morning. It led the national network news. It even presented an opportunity for Barack Obama and Paul Ryan to agree on something.
Sport can do that because Sport has an end purpose beyond that of merely putting on a good show. Sport is about winning or losing, victory or defeat (sorry, Grantland Rice). All of us in possession of a typewriter, computer, or microphone have rhapsodized at one time or another about a noble losing effort, either by an individual or a team, but being praised for Coming Close is, inevitably, a consolation prize. The object of all our major Sport competitions is to win.
Concurrent with that goal is the concept of Justice. Losing is always hard, but losing because of a clear injustice is far worse. And regardless of what the NFL, or replacement referee Lance Easley is trying to run by us, a major injustice was perpetrated on the Packers at the end of that game. It’s rather obvious there is no comparable issue in the world of Entertainment.
A well-rounded person appreciates both Sport and Entertainment. I would consider a good ballgame in the afternoon followed by a great concert in the evening to be pretty close to a perfect day (with a good meal thrown in somewhere).
So why did America erupt in such a unified manner once that game was over?
I guess I’d better start with the obvious. For millions of people, the NFL should be renamed the NBL, as in National Betting League. Estimates of how much worldwide money shifted from someone winning to someone losing by virtue of the touchdown call ranged from $150 million-$300 million. There is, of course, no parallel in the world of Entertainment.
But even for those of us who don’t bet, the outcome of that game tweaked our sense of right and wrong. It may have been a difficult call to make the instant the play occurred, but the methodology that arrived at the wrong decision was itself improper. That it was adjudicated by bogus NFL officials represented the Popeye “that’s-all-I-can-stands-I-can’t-stands-no-more” moment for the sports-loving American public. Hence the coast-to-coast reaction of outrage, starting off with an estimated 70,000 calls placed to the NFL’s Park Avenue offices.
The question before us is this: Is there anything comparable in the world of the arts or the world of music that could spark a similarly heated response from their respective publics?
“That’s a tough one,” muses famed concert producer Don Law. “As far as the experience itself is concerned, there is a similar adrenaline rush felt by fans at a game and people at a concert. But it’s hard to think of anything that would generate a reaction like the one after the football game.”
Law can speak with knowledge about rabid fans. “Major concerts can sell out in five minutes,” he points out. That, however, is as far as it goes.
Let’s face it. The great thing about Sport is that until the event unfurls, You Don’t Know. Even though their intellectual side believes their team is better than the Bills, Patriots fans will be feeling considerable angst prior to Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff in Orchard Park, N.Y. They know that starting 1-3 could have dire playoff implications, and they know that the Patriots tripped up in their visit to upstate New York last year.
So the fans are understandably on edge. It’s all part of being a fan of Sport.
It doesn’t work that way in the realm of Entertainment. You may not know for sure that you will enjoy a movie or a play, or perhaps a museum exhibit, and if you don’t, well, better luck next time. You may have some degree of exhilaration if you enjoy it, but you surely don’t suffer if you don’t. (Anger is another thing. I know two discriminating movie-goers who came out loathing “The Master.”)
As for concerts, you go to have your preconceived notions confirmed. You know what you want to hear, and how you want to hear it. The exception might be a Bob Dylan concert. You never know which of his beloved hits he’s going to mangle — er, reconstruct — and whether or not the croak masquerading as a singing voice will actually make it to the end of the song. But, hey, that’s caveat emptor, and all his fans know pretty much what to expect.
Anyway, Sport and Entertainment are each vital parts of our daily existence. We need them both, because they’re most definitely not the same.Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.