Democracy

2005-03-18

If someone compiled a list of how American people spend their leisure time organized by popularity, no one would be surprised to find attending and viewing professional sporting events, whether in person or via television or satellite, very close to the top of the list. Those who have noticed the evolution of this trend will find also that it has taken away from one activity that used to engage American citizens' free time: democracy. As respectable and fulfilling as sporting events are, their time-consuming nature detracts from weightier obligations Americans have traditionally pursued. I speak, of course, of the dwindling popularity of attending and following the workings of our government in region-specific political affairs. One would truly be hard-pressed to find that activity even within the first twenty pages of the list.

In early December 1891, Luther Gulick, chairman of the physical education department at the School for Christian Workers in Springfield, Massachusetts, instructed physical education teacher James Naismith to invent a new game to entertain the school's athletes during the winter season. With an ordinary soccer ball, Naismith assembled his class of eighteen young men, appointed captains of two nine-player teams, and introduced them to the game "Basket Ball." Naismith, who had outlined thirteen original rules, dispatched the school janitor to find two boxes to fasten to the balcony railing at opposite sides of the gymnasium, where they would serve as goals. The school janitor, however, only found two half-bushel peach baskets, and the game was played with these. The soccer ball and the peach basket soon gave way to specialized equipment, and basketball rapidly grew in popularity as high school players joined professional leagues and were soon offered ridiculously high salaries to entertain the American public.

Nearly all of America is affected by this distraction. Sports absorption is clearly evidenced by the nationwide ratings received by the recent Superbowl XXXIX, which was attended by 78,125 and viewed by millions more. While there is certainly no shame to be found in these numbers, how do we sleep at night knowing that a standard Rochester, MN school board meeting is lucky if it plays host to twenty attendees? That's dramatically less than the attendance to the Superbowl. Surely something must be done to help us clear our collective conscience.

Now I don't mean to say that this issue has gone entirely unaddressed. TV networks have half-heartedly tried to boost exposure to political arenas. We now have not only a C-SPAN channel for the Senate's political proceedings but also a C-SPAN 2, which covers the House of Representatives. C-SPAN should try to broaden its reach in an attempt to increase its ratings and strengthen its fan base. This would be a clear reflection of ESPN's complete sports coverage through over a hundred regularly programmed stations—among them, the aptly named ESPN, ESPN 4, ESPN 17, and my personal favorite, ESPN 6. I applaud the networks' efforts thus far, and hope soon to see a C-SPAN 3 appear on my TV Guide.

Now may I be so bold as to propose a solution of my own on the matter? Many of us are aware of such programs such as Fantasy Football and Fantasy Basketball. Participants draft their own teams based on the players available in the corresponding professional league. They then observe their players' standings in the real league and how those figures affect their standings in the fantasy league. These services are offered to the worldwide public through various sources, most notably ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports. I wish to suggest, of course, that we provide a similar service I would like to call "Fantasy Politics." Participants will begin the fiscal year by drafting their team of powerhouse politicians, be they senators, representatives, governors, mayors, obscure county or city officials and assistants, or even the president himself. Statistics would be tracked throughout their various terms, and scores would be provided based on bills passed and time spent at meetings. Cash prizes could be available to participants who manage their teams most effectively, or maybe even a chance to meet their MVP—Most Valuable Politician.

This proposal certainly promises to glamorize the world of legislation and government. America's fascination with professional sports will transfer to a newfound appreciation of our legislative system. In fact, I would hardly be surprised to find within the closets of today's youth a single item of sports equipment—rather, sales of briefcases, three-ring binders, and pinstripe suits would skyrocket. Household names like "Mad Dog" Mark Madsen and Shaquille O'Neal would soon be replaced by the likes of Condoleeza "The Negotiator" Rice and Gil "The Legislatin' Machine" Gutknecht.

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