Politicians need to learn from sports

Nov 9, 2012

Whether your candidates won or lost this week, we can all rejoice that it’s finally over. 

Or, we think it is.  We can’t be sure anymore, can we? 

All this made me ponder the relative craziness of politics versus sports. I got to thinking: Which is sillier?  Playing politics, or playing sports? 

As silly as sports are – and I seem to devote half my commentaries to that very subject – after watching the 2012 campaigns, I can tell you, it’s not even close: Playing politics is sillier, in a landslide.

In the sporting world, you’re not supposed to badmouth your opponent, or even talk about them very much.  Coaches always say, “I’m just focusing on my team.”  And then – amazingly – that’s what they actually do.

In politics, badmouthing the other guy is just about all they do.  And if there is any expectation of clean play anymore, I must have missed it – along with just about every single candidate.

In sports, you cannot blame the weather.  The coaches’ cliché here goes like this: “Both teams played on the same field, didn’t they?” 

In politics, they start blaming the weather before election day even arrives.

In sports, if you change your strategy repeatedly, they don’t call you a flip-flopper. They call you a former coach.  If only that were true in politics. 

In sports, if you whine about the referees – no matter how bad they might be – they call you, well, a whiner.  In politics, when they’re not badmouthing each other, they’re crying about Rush Limbaugh and Fox on one side, or Ed Schultz and MSNBC on the other. 

But forget the refs.  In politics, they can’t even agree on the score – or even when the game is over. 

Football, hockey and even baseball have recently added instant replay to ensure they make the right call.  Yes, the delays are annoying – but not as annoying as watching a candidate deliver whopper after whopper, only to hear the political pundits tell us they’re curious to see what the fact checkers will make of all that -- in a few days.  By then, of course, the lie has already circled the globe.

Fact checkers?  I’m old enough to remember what we used to call them: “Journalists.” 

If it’s not the pundits’ job to know what the facts are, what IS his job?  Is he just a game show host, who passes the buck on every tricky question to the “judges”?  Wink Martindale can do that. 

But the craziest difference between sports and politics is how they treat their audience. 

In sports, they want you to come see their team, and they make it easy.  But in politics, after they bombard you with billions of dollars of ads to get you to play, then make you wait five hours to follow through.    

When it comes to voting, forget comparing our election system to those of third world banana republics.  Even the almost-defunct National Hockey League – currently on the verge of canceling another season -- makes it easier to vote for a goalie for the All-Star team than it is to pick the leader of the free world.

Let that sink in. 

We like to say sports teach us lessons we can use later in life. 

Unless, of course, you become a politician.  Then, you take everything that sports taught you – and do the opposite: focus on your opponent, not your own game; deny reality, including the score; and after you lose, blame everyone – even the refs and the weather -- before you blame yourself.

I dream of a day when we take politics as seriously as we take sports.