In The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Barash writes:
Marx was wrong: The opiate of the masses isn’t religion, but spectator sports. What else explains the astounding fact that millions of seemingly intelligent human beings feel that the athletic exertions of total strangers are somehow consequential for themselves? The real question we should be asking during the madness surrounding this month’s collegiate basketball championship season is not who will win, but why anyone cares.
Maybe it is time to rework Andy Warhol’s observation that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes: Thanks to spectator sports, each of us can know fame for most of our lives, so long as we are satisfied with the ever-shifting, warmed-over shadow of someone else’s.
Youngsters seem especially prone to that delusion, desperate as they are for heroes, and craving the opportunity to bask in another’s glory. And so when children avidly pore over vacuous images and vital statistics, or traipse enthusiastically to the local (or even distant) stadium, it is easy to make allowances. Indeed, there is something touching about such fresh-faced yearning for exemplars, even though the constellations they see may not be notable for the content of their characters, intelligence, compassion, decency, or creativity, but rather for an uncommon and sometimes downright freakish ability to hit, throw, catch, roll, or bounce a ball, to jump high or punch hard, or to bump into other people in such a manner as to knock them down and/or avoid being knocked down themselves. Small wonder everyone ends up disappointed when those luminaries are revealed to be moral dwarfs.