Dalrymple notices a lack of self-control on the part of players and spectators at Wimbledon:
Almost every time a photograph appears in the newspaper of the young British tennis player, Andrew Murray, he appears to be assaulting an invisible enemy. His free fist is clenched, his mouth in [sic] wide open as if uttering a snarling war-cry, and altogether he looks ready to attack any moving thing that comes within range. It is very ugly.Read the entire article at The Social Affairs Unit
Of course, he is not alone among sportsmen: many of them have this primitive and menacing deportment. What is more, the crowd watching Murray at Wimbledon displays no better self-control. It screams and shouts at every turn, whether it be from excitement, disappointment, anxiety, encouragement, joy, and so forth. I think it can safely be assumed that the crowd is not composed in the main of members of the British underclass.
The American philosopher Paul Weiss, in his 1958 book MODES OF BEING, proposed that sport is a valuable form of moral training, a supplement to what one learns at home and abroad. Having observed many of the behaviors that Dalrymple observes in this article at other sporting and entertainment venues, I, upon reading the claim, had trouble at first in accepting it.
Weiss, however, was certainly writing in the decades before such behavior became widespread. Good sportsmanship still prevailed, as it still does in isolated pockets today (has anyone here ever seen or heard of cricket hooliganism?)
Hooliganism, which is physically violent behaviour, is not really the issue here. I have never heard of tennis hooliganism either. Or of swimming hooliganism. Or of athletics hooliganism. Et j’en passe. Indeed, hooligansim is very much the exception rather than the rule.
What is at issue here is something different, a form of emotional violence, expressed vocally (‘verbally’ would be too generous a term in many cases). And it is perhaps because this type of violence is less of a problem than the real, bone-crunching, head-splitting, physical violence of hooliganism that it has not been perceived as a real problem at all…
I usually agree with Dr Dalrymple’s views on self-restraint but in this case I believe he’s off the mark.
Expressions of elation, frustration and joy in sport, by both the participants and spectators, are precisely what make such activities worthwhile. Rob them of their emotion and they lose all meaning. Sport, after all, serves no practical purpose. The emotional response to achievement or failure in sport is its very reason for being.
I do not believe that the gentle unbuttoning of restraint in the sporting world is a symptom or cause of rampant egotism in society, which is what Dr Dalrymple seems to suggest. Nor do I believe that anything less that the complete concealment of satisfaction, frustration or desire puts us on a slippery slope to the kind of petulant self-absorbtion so prevalent today.
Dr Dalrymple’s writings often remind us that human existence cannot be governed according to black-and-white principles, so why does he not believe that in this instance there can be some acceptable middle ground?
Personally, I like my sports men and women to be passionate, single-minded and ruthless. In a society that celebrates mediocrity over talent and compromise over the pursuit of excellence, it’s nice to have a part of public life that does the opposite.
Not so long ago, sports were viewed as an arena for practicing virtue; this is the Aristotelean idea of virtue as habit – to become a virtuous person, one must repeatedly be virtuous.
Pride, the queen of the virtues as Aristotle put it, should, and does, come from victory, but it should not be allowed to devolve into vanity.