Charles O. Finley is rarely, if ever, at a loss for words, but when asked what he thought American sport would be like in the year 2000, he was nearly dumbstruck. "All I know," he said, "is that the baseball will be bright orange by 1998." Others are less in awe of the great unknown. Lynn Stone, president of Churchill Downs and Hialeah Park, flatly declares that the $2 bet, for years the basic wager at U.S. tracks, will be replaced by a $3 or a $5 minimum. Bill Veeck predicts women will be playing on major league baseball teams and John Schapiro, president of Laurel Race Course, ventures that a majority of jockeys may be women.
Other experts hold that drugs will be sold openly at sporting-event concessions and that the hot dog of tomorrow will pack the same kick as the marijuana brownie of today; that there will be only one division in boxing, the heavyweight, all other classes having vanished because of boredom or bankruptcy; and that ski boots will have sensors that release the binding if the stress on a leg bone approaches the breaking point. Still other prophets foresee that non-contact sports will be played in the nude; that a round of golf will be played in one spot, by means of a computer and TV screen; and that ice hockey will be played on Teflon.
Mike Palmer of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif., contends that "it is irrational to attach pro teams to cities; no one has loyalty to a city in these days of suburbs and transiency. I wouldn't be surprised if owners began to organize teams based on ethnic or ideological loyalties to regenerate enthusiasm—games featuring the Steel-workers vs. the Executives, the Hippies vs. the Straights, Hunters vs. Animal Lovers."
Dr. Robert Kerlan, the Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon who is team doctor for the Lakers, the Kings and the Rams, says, "By the year 2000, athletes will compete much longer—for 25 years or more. We will probably live to be 150 or 200 and an athlete's career will be just like a businessman's." Joe Delouise, a Chicago psychic, foretells, "I see skydiving increasing in popularity, with many housewives participating." Because of domed roofs and artificial surfaces, the vagaries of weather will be a thing of the past for almost all sports participants (possibly including racehorses and skiers, but probably not skydiving housewives). Subjective decisions will also be obsolete, sensors having been installed in sidelines, baselines, home-plate zones, etc. Even the scoring of a boxing match will be electronic, with sensors in the gloves and a sensitized powder on the fighters' bodies so that telling blows can be registered on a scoreboard. Some people even predict that Taiwan will be readmitted to the Little League World Series, since in 15 years the major leagues will be international, having expanded to include teams from Japan, Venezuela, Mexico and Cuba.
December 23, 1974
And so it goes, as one chronicler of the future puts it.
In discussing the specific future of sport, one must assume that there will be a future and that it will not be all that bad. For the purposes of this article ignore the threats of nuclear lunacy, global famine, worldwide economic depression and poisoned skies. In searching out the future of sport, one has to guess the unguessable. Indeed, there is really only one point of certitude: As it always has, sport will continue to reflect the society in which it occurs.
During American colonial days 95 of every 100 people were involved in farming. Sport was rustic, family-oriented. In colonial America, as in medieval Europe, spectator-ship was reserved for church and hangings. Then came the Industrial Revolution, and in the mid-19th century Americans began to leave the fields for the factories, exchanging farms for slums. Enormous crowds were crammed together; massive pools of athletic talent were suddenly gathered in one place. At the same time, family allegiances were being replaced by neighborhood loyalties or factory friendships and it was natural to hold athletic contests among these groups. Soon it became important that one group of factory workers prove it was better than another on the athletic field, so only the best players were used. The other workers retired to the sidelines to cheer and, later, to celebrate victories that demonstrated their team, factory, neighborhood or fraternal lodge was better. Thus, in a short period of social upheaval two phenomena were created—mass spectatorship and the win syndrome.
As C. P. Snow said, "Until this century social change was so slow that it would pass unnoticed in one person's lifetime. That is no longer so. The rate of change has increased so much that our imagination can't keep up." No one but a madman could have foreseen the technological, social, moral and economic revolutions of the American 20th century. As puritanism moved offstage, sport responded with Sunday games, beer sold openly at public stadiums and winning-justifies-the-means philosophies. As education became widespread, a superficially simple game like baseball was replaced in popularity by the apparently more complex strategies of football. As the American consumer society expanded—indeed, fairly exploded—and as the profit motive became more and more the national rationale, sport followed by becoming a hard-sell consumer business, too. It expanded enormously, until, as Joel Spring, professor of education at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University, puts it: "Athletics have become big business, a business dependent on a large body of consumers or spectators. It operates on the profit motive, and that means it has to have lots more people in the stands than there are on the field. Games have come to be played under scientific management with factorylike specialization and expertise. The resulting trends could be continual changes in rules and forms of major sports to make them more consumer-oriented."
Thus far, 75 years into the 20th century, the mirror of American sport reflects a society of hard sell and high production, of enormous growth and rocketing optimism. But times are changing. The signs of a cooling off have long been at hand. Gregory Schmid, an economist at the Institute for the Future, says, "I don't think we will take for granted the consistent optimism of the past. There is suddenly more uncertainty in our lives. Inflation is up and growth is down. We are coming into a period of moderation."
When futurists write of tomorrow, they speak in terms of "scenarios," meaning contrived situations and conditions extrapolated from known facts and trends of the past. This is complex stuff and the point of it all is to raise guesswork to the level of a science. A number of intelligent people are trying to see what is ahead so we can prepare for it, and we should be grateful for their efforts—right or wrong.
Futurists speak frequently of the "post-industrial society," an era which is probably already upon us and will likely continue through the year 2000. In short, this refers to a time (or scenario) when the American Way of Life will not be so intensely focused on the efficient production of goods and the mindless consumption of same. Harvard Sociologist Daniel Bell, in his book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, explained it this way: "The first and simplest characteristic...is that the majority of the labor force is no longer engaged in agriculture or manufacturing but in services which are defined, residually, as trade, finance, transport, health, recreation, research, education, and government."
This means, wrote Bell, that the dominant worker in the U.S. labor force will be the "brain worker." This trend has been clear for many years: jobs that require some college education have been increasing at a rate double that of those filled by the rest of the U.S. work force, and the number of scientists and engineers, a group Bell calls "the key group in the post-industrial society," has been growing at a rate triple that of the rest of the work force.
Thus the U.S. is rapidly shifting toward a society which will be far more cerebral. And, obviously, the braininess of the nation will have a profound effect on sport. Brian Sutton-Smith, professor of psychology at Columbia's Teachers College, says, "As we become more cerebral, sport has to become better and better. The spectator becomes more and more critical. We are coming the other way around from the automated man. There are riots at soccer matches because people are not willing to sit and watch dull, routine matches. Spectators rebel and cause their own happening at a dull match. In a more cerebral future there will probably be a tendency away from massive followings of the monolithic spectator sports and toward more diversity. The popularity of football, basketball and baseball will become commensurate with things like orienteering, volleyball, bicycling. And the large sports of today will possibly become more like art, with a skilled critic commenting on slow-motion TV replays—someone like Howard Cosell to analyze and interpret the play."
If one projects this cerebralness to a logical end, a football game of the future may consist of no more than four plays, each replayed over and over, dissected, analyzed and criticized from a dozen angles of slow-motion replays, with each player's performance judged and scored for its nearness to perfection (like figure skating). The winner of the game will not be the team that scores the most touchdowns, but the team that executes its four plays perfectly. Such might be the content of Monday Night Football for a nation of intellectuals in the year 2000 (although when The Old Intellectual himself was asked his opinion of such a prospect, Cosell rasped, "That's an absurd extreme").
If the general intelligence of the population improves, the appeal of violence in sport might be reduced. John W. Loy, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, says, "I don't see any great demand for blood sport in the future. The growth of sport in the U.S. actually parallels increasing controls over violence. There are more rules than ever protecting players from injury, and better equipment—face masks in hockey, batting helmets in baseball." A colleague adds, "If there is a split in society in the future—a wealthy middle class and a poor lower class—then there is a possibility of split sport forms, with the cerebral and gentler games for the upper class, the brutality for the prols." Sociologist Fred R. Crawford of Atlanta's Emory University also sees little chance for more violent games: "We don't even support the death penalty for criminals. Our value system is actually moving in the opposite direction and in the future I think an Evel Knievel would have to prove that he is not going to be killed before they allow him to do it."
Possibly. Yet perhaps the future was already with us last month when President Ford appeared at a U.S. Army camp in-Korea and was "entertained" by the game of "combat football"—an invention in which there are 42 men on each side, two balls in play at once and no limitation on blocking, tackling, kicking or piling-on. One fellow who thinks such brutality may even be desirable is Lee Walburn, an outspoken executive with Atlanta's Omni group, which owns the NHL Flames and the NBA Hawks. Walburn says, "I think the sports that will claim the big on-site crowds are the violent sports, where there is the chance of injury. People who enjoy that kind of sport won't be able to get the true experience without being on the site to see the blood, hear the smack of the fist on the head or witness the crash of an automobile. On the other hand, the 'beautiful' sports like basketball, tennis and baseball will be watched by esthetes at home on cable and pay TV where they can admire the grace and beauty, like they would a Peggy Fleming ice show. But I think hockey and football will be more violent in the year 2000 because we may be such a sedentary society that we need some release for our emotions. It'll be a matter of psychological therapy to have violent sport. We may not see men fighting to the death, but we could have animals killing each other—cockfights, pit bulldogs, maybe even piranhas eating each other to death on television."
In the glowing '60s, when consumer-spectator interest seemed to have no limit, sport expanded as rapidly as the rest of the economy. But a 1974 Harris survey showed that only tennis and horse racing had gained in spectator interest in the past year. All other sports had declined. Pro football is still No. 1, but season-ticket sales dropped 6% and TV ratings are down. Even Pete Rozelle is slightly glum. "There has been a dilution in football," he says, "because of the new league. There has been a dilution in all sports. You turn on the radio and hear about teams you didn't even know existed. You ask, 'Where is that team? Is it hockey or what?' The days of simplistic identification are over. There are just too many teams." Whatever there may be too many of, Rozelle obviously doesn't think they are NFL teams. The league is still expanding as blithely as if it were 1965—to 28 teams in 1976, to 30 in 1977 or 1978, and, perhaps by next year, on to Europe for a mini-NFL: the Vienna Lipizzaners, the Istanbul Conquerors, the Rome Gladiators.
Rozelle sees the drop in football popularity as temporary and believes it has been caused by an invasion of bleak real life into the previously escapist "oasis" of pro football. "We are a form of entertainment," he says. "In the future, I hope we can keep our off-field problems removed from the game. The public doesn't want strikes and lawsuits, they want enjoyment. I hope we can make pro football an escape valve for the fan again, an oasis from a troubled world." At the moment, Rozelle still sees commercial television and the spectator-consumer as pro football's economic base, and he says the NFL is no longer even toying with the idea of starting its own independent network, an idea that was fairly close to reality five years ago. However, if mass spectator appeal takes a deeper nose dive and ratings drop further, the networks may be unwilling to support the NFL in the manner to which it has become accustomed, namely at a rate of $55 million a year. Cable and pay television will then become a very real possibility.
The payoff for pay television could be nearly astronomical. Jack Kent Cooke, principal owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, as well as largest single stockholder of the Washington Redskins and chairman of TelePromTer Corp., did some figuring about the Southern California basin where there are some 3.5 million homes. "If just 20% want to watch the Rams, the Dodgers, the Lakers, the Kings or whatever," says Cooke, "you have a total of 700,000 homes. Let's say it's $5 per home. You are playing a numbers game that knocks you for a loop—that's $3.5 million per game!"
But the most likely source of income for sport in the future will be gambling money. Few re-I alists doubt it. Bill Veeck says, "There undoubtedly will be legalized gambling on all sports. There will be off-park betting, of course, and eventually there will be mutuels in our stadiums. There's not a thing wrong with it." University of Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham agrees: "The next step will be legalized gambling—state-controlled mutuel windows. Oh, maybe not at colleges, but certainly for the pros. That's not far out. Rozelle's against it now, but he's progressive as hell and he will probably be the first guy to put betting booths in the stadiums."
Assuming proper controls, which would be little different from the controls now in effect to keep illegal gambling from influencing game results, sport could be run almost entirely from gambling proceeds. Indeed, stadium seats now going for as much as $10 might be as cheap as general admission to racetracks, now averaging $1.50, or even be free. Not only could the economy of sports be revitalized, gambling might add enthusiasm to spectatorship in general. Lee Vander Velden, an assistant professor of physical education at the University of Maryland, says: "Team loyalties are fading out, I think, and more people are interested in a game like Atlanta vs. San Diego only because they want to see if they can beat the line. Putting a little money up is one guaranteed way to get an individual to work up some excitement over a game he might not ordinarily care about."
An even more logical projection that would hype spectator gambling interest would combine pay television of sorts with your friendly neighborhood bookmaker, or banker. Atlanta Sociologist Fred Crawford says, "We haven't really even started to explore the potential of betting on live games on television. It could work like an American Express Card—you could actually bet against your own bank, say, through your TV set. Something with an electronic key that's activated by a credit card, with computerized punch buttons to show how you want to bet, what point spread you like, etc. All the gambler would have to do is send in his chit to the bank and have his winnings transferred to his account—or losings deducted."
So, with electronic gambling to solve the economic problems of professional sports, what about the colleges? Michigan's Canham says flatly: 'The economics of college sports are critical right now. If you're talking about 25 years, I think that by then—in fact, in a lot less time—we'll have nothing but a coast-to-coast super conference in football. No school will stay in the game except the superpowers—maybe 20 teams, maybe 25. Everyone else will be in club sports. Right now Michigan happens to be one of the fortunate schools, but down the line there is deep trouble. I give us five years, at least I think we can keep our head above water for five years, but certainly not 25 years. We generate $4.5 million here in revenue, and when we get to the point where we can't afford big-time football, what must be happening at other schools?"
A nother change will be a substantial increase in leisure time. Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener of the Hudson Institute concocted "a scenario in their book The Year 2000 in which working hours were cut from 1,900 to 1,100 a year. This resulted in a 7½-hour workday, a four-day work week, based on 39 work weeks, including holidays, and added up to 147 workdays and 218 days off each year. But leisure may not be the blessing it seems. There will be huge adjustments to be made in terms of soothing the American sense of guilt over not working. Kahn and Wiener wrote: "Typically an American businessman or professional man apologizes for taking a vacation by explaining it is only 'in order to recharge his batteries'; he justifies rest or play mostly in terms of returning to do a better job. Thus if the average American had an opportunity to live on the beach for six months a year doing nothing, he might have severe guilt feelings in addition to a sunburn.... He usually must go through a preliminary justification such as the following: 'The system is corrupt, I reject it.... To hell with these puritanical, obsolete concepts.' Unless an American has taken an ideological and moralistic stance against the work-oriented value system, he cannot abandon work."
Despite the Kahn-Wiener scenario with almost a 2-to-l ratio of leisure time over work time (which they say is a maximized possibility), the fact is that in the past 20 years leisure time in America has not changed much—nor has the habit of involvement in sport. Indeed, it has been argued by Staffan B. Linder in a book called The Harried Leisure Class that Americans use less time for relaxation than one would assume, for even though "non-work hours" have increased while work hours have gone down slightly, our advanced technology has actually caused us to expend a lot of "non-work time" at "non-leisure" pursuits such as commuting to and from work for an hour or two a day. Indeed, a clear-cut passivity has been built into American life over the past 20 years despite the so-called Sports Boom. The average amount of time spent participating in sports or vigorous exercise by Americans is only 5.5 minutes a day.
Whether the American society maintains its level of lassitude remains to be seen, but one thing that may change it is the attitude toward physical education in the public schools. For nearly all the years of the Sports Boom, the great majority of American children have had spectatorship thrust upon them from the moment they start school. The average child—and God knows, the inferior child—was neglected or ignored in physical education. The emphasis in high schools has been almost entirely upon the elite male athlete and on team games (the moneymakers). Psychologist Thomas Tutko of San Jose State University says, "It's very painful to think of all the youngsters who love sport but who are being eliminated at every stage just because they aren't going to be 'winners'—because they are too short or too weak. The genuine benefits of athletics—health, sociability and developing personal psychological growth, cooperation, loyalty and pride—are being undermined." Katherine Ley, president of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, says, "We should be offering all kinds of experiences to high school kids—orienteering, bicycling, camping, hiking. And in the future physical education should be located primarily in the elementary schools or even offered to preschool youngsters. We are too win-oriented, and in athletics we should stress the learning situation, not the winning situation. If competitive sport isn't an education tool, then it should be taken out of the public schools. A coach could sit in the stands and let the kids run the game—that's where the future of school sports could lie."
It is possible, however, that the very personality of the American population as it develops in the next 25 years will be more active than passive, more involved than inert. For the rest of the 20th century will be dominated by the energetic, hell-raising crowd of activist-skeptics born during the Baby Boom of the early '50s, plus the less obviously dynamic but perhaps equally dubious bunch who came a few years later. Some 80 million Americans were born between 1945 and 1965, a birth rate of 23.3 per thousand (an enormous increase compared to the 18.7 rate of 1935 and the slackening rate of 14.9 in 1973). This great bulge of people will affect American demographics right through the millennium. The average age in the U.S. will rise dramatically—from 28 in 1970 to 35.8 in 2000.
The numerical influence of this crowd will be impressive. The Department of the Interior, for example, predicts that whereas there were 14 million backpackers in 1970, by the year 2000 there will be 43 million. Last year no fewer than 21 national parks required campsite reservations. These large numbers work the other way, too: whereas American professional sports are now riding the crest of the Baby Boom and have the greatest pool of young athletic talent available in the history of the world, within a few more years, perhaps only five, that pool will be drying up and the level of excellence will fall as the lower birth rates of the late '60s begin to affect the number of excellent athletes available.
Beyond its numerical force, this crowd has a further influence. In his book Sociology of Sport, Berkeley Sociologist Harry Edwards wrote: "Here we have a category of people who have seldom, if ever, known material want, who have for the most part been insulated from the more mundane struggles of day-to-day existence, and many of whom have come to view the sphere of organized sport as crass, vulgar and oppressive.... If these definitions of the significance and character of sport persist among members of the youth culture into their adult years, sport as we know it today is likely to decline for want of attention and interest."
David N. Campbell, associate professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh, sees another, more specific shift in that generation's view of sport: "They were a revolutionary generation who rejected competition. They had endured it to a degree that the rest of us never knew. They were ranked, graded and sorted in every effort they undertook. There were too many people for every possibility, every activity, every job, every class. That put most people into a losing status and now we have a society with a majority of losers. And as for competition, I don't think it's ever going to come back as strong as it used to be. These kids have just had too much of it. There's a myth in this country that's propagated by Ford and Nixon that America was made great by competition. If you read American history, you'll find that pioneers were not competitive people, they were a cooperative people. They wouldn't have survived otherwise, so competition is no more an intrinsic part of the American Way than these new generations see it—and they've rejected it."
Competition or non-competition, the future of American sport probably best fits into two broad scenarios: Technosport, that sport which is the product of machines and technicians, and Ecosport, that sport which springs from the natural relationship between man and his environment. They are opposites, yet they are in no way mutually exclusive for, as a number of tomorrow-experts have said, a dominant characteristic of our future will probably be "pluralism," that which allows nearly everything to exist with nearly everything else.
A Technosport scenario will bring a deluge of complexities. Dr. Edward Lawless of the Midwest Research Institute, a Kansas City think tank, says, "Technological developments are likely to get piled upon one another, which will decrease the role of the human being. There will be more 'technological fixes'; urine tests for athletes will be mandatory because drug stimulants will be so common. Football players will be so padded they will begin to look like grotesque robots."
There is talk today, still theoretical, of "genetic engineering," a kind of technological biology in which men can be specifically designed before birth to become nine-foot basketball centers with the hands of concert pianists or 375-pound, eight-foot running backs who do the 100 in eight flat. This kind of Brave New World concept fits the Technosport scenario, for fans of these games will be spectators supreme—pathological watchers who worship the specialist, adore the elite athlete.
Although jock-breeding might be desirable to Technosport fanatics, it seems unlikely it will be more than a theory by the year 2000. Says Dr. Laurence E. Karp, an obstetrician who does research in reproductive genetics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, "Breeding super athletes may be possible, but there is really no guarantee that mating an athletically inclined male with a similarly inclined female will produce an athletic offspring. Once the fertilization process begins, the genetic roulette wheel is spun. The two strong mates could produce a Milquetoast."
However, perhaps massive genetic engineering—nature's way—has already begun to give us supermen. Dr. Robert Hamilton, a Chicago orthopedic surgeon who works with several high school teams, says, "We will see 360-pound, 7½-foot tackles in football in 15 years. Take a high school roster 15 years ago, examine the heights and weights and you will find a 15% to 20% increase today—in some cases 50%."
Laurence E. Morehouse of the Department of Kinesiology at UCLA agrees. "There is no limit at the present time to the size people we will produce," he says. "Men eight feet tall, weighing 350 pounds, are possible in the future. The reasons are not genetic engineering, but random mating in an increasing population to bring together diversified genes, plus better nutrition and the absence of childhood diseases." Everyone agrees that one mandatory change in both football and basketball of the future will be larger playing areas to contain tomorrow's giants.
Technosport stadiums will be grand monuments—domed, air-conditioned, artificially turfed—vast Sybaritic arenas equipped with everything from push-button vending machines at each seat to individual TV replays that can be punched up at will. Architect Charles Luckman, whose firm designed the new Madison Square Garden, the L.A. Forum and the still incomplete Honolulu Multi-Sport Movable Stadium (which will have mobile sections on air cushions to change the stadium from a baseball to a football arena), predicts the day is not far off when people will be led to their seats by the sound of ocean waves, of wind, of singing birds, of gurgling brooks, a lovely addition to the cold artificial environs of a typical Technosport stadium.
Computers will be important in Technosport, and every dugout, every sideline bench will have one to pop out sheets of probability tables to help call each play, each pitch, each infield shift. Moreover, spectators will be able to punch up computerized odds and bet against management on every kind of trivial possibility.
Technosport spectators will also feel closer to the game. They will be able to listen in to press-box scouts giving advice to the bench, to miked-and-wired conversations at the pitching mound, to quarterback's calls in the huddle, to halftime pep talks.
Lee Walburn of Atlanta's Omni group has a wild, but possibly not too far-out, idea for bringing the fan even closer to the contest. "At least by early in the 21st century," he says, "we will have something called Feel-A-Vision—electronic sensory perceptors so the spectator who may lack the ability to take part in sport himself can experience the pain, the emotion, the physical actions of the athletes. You could go in a theater, sit down, have buttons on your seat which are hooked into a certain player—to his heartbeats, his brain waves, his pulmonary system. And you could get the transmissions from a quarterback when he throws a touchdown pass. You could feel how Ali felt when Foreman was trying to hit him on the ropes. You could even have been wired into Evel Knievel—but, for God's sake, what if he got killed? Think of the thrill you'd get."
Perhaps a more probable addition to Technosport spectating is something that might be called Democracy Football. It is a Monday night in November, 1999, and the Houston Oilers are about to play the Chicago Bears. In this scenario there are 556,191 homes in Houston with television sets, each equipped with a console containing rows of multicolored buttons. Each viewer has a playbook for the Oiler offense, a playbook for the defense. In Chicago there are 817,911 TV homes, each identically equipped, except, of course, the viewers have Bear playbooks. Now the official flips the coin. Heads for Houston. The Houston viewers vote by pushing a button—529,876 to receive, one (idiot!) to kick off. The vote is instantly counted, computerized, flashed into the helmets of the Houston team. The Democracy Football game is under way. A Houston back returns the kick off to his 38-yard line. All over Houston viewers consult their playbooks (they have one minute) and then they press a combination of buttons to call a play. Instantaneously, the computer totals the Oiler fan-coaches' votes: 307,278 vote for a zig-out pass into the left flat to the tight end; 121,908 for an off-tackle slant to the right with the fullback carrying; 100,689 for a sweep to the right; one man votes for a quick kick (same idiot). Meanwhile, all of Chicago is voting on which defense to use and the plurality—315,924—pushes buttons calling for a four-three-four.
The wishes of the Oiler TV fans are relayed to the Houston quarterback's helmet. He cannot disobey, of course. He calls the pass to the flat. The Oilers move to the line of scrimmage. The Bears go into the defensive formation their fans have called. The Oilers try the prescribed pass to the left flat. It is knocked to the ground by a Bear linebacker. Houston moans, Chicago cheers. It is second and 10. The viewers vote. And so it goes. Houston plays Chicago, literally citizen against citizen. Thus would Technosport produce a technological miracle of something which might hitherto have been thought a contradiction in terms: Spectator-Participation.
Now Ecosport. Here we have the other extreme, for technology and artificiality are abhorred, disdained. Ecosport consists of natural play, unstructured, free-blown. Its games are open, flowing, perhaps without boundaries, often without rules, usually without scoreboards, sometimes without end or middle or measurable victory. Everyone participates and the overriding slogan might well be, "If a sport is worth playing, it is worth playing badly."
Many think there will be a massive new enthusiasm for natural sport. Michael Novak, author and philosopher, says, "A convulsion is coming, an attempt to throw off the corporation and professionalization—to shake off the cold hand of the 20th century—and return sports to their primitive vigor." The chairman of the Human Development program at the University of Chicago with the incredible name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, says: "We have moved from spontaneity to point ratings, from individual talent to computerized cards. There are far more statistics than heroics in sports and I think there will be a reaction against all this, a change back to naturalness."
In the era of Ecosport men may not only begin to doubt the famed Vince Lombardi motto, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," they may actually swing around to Author George Leonard's proclamation that, "Winning is not only not everything, winning is not anything." As John McMurtry, a philosopher from Canada's University of Guelph, said during a sports symposium last year: "Actually, the pursuit of victory works to reduce the chance for excellence in the true performance of the sport. It tends to distract our attention from excellence of performance by rendering it subservient to emerging victorious. I suspect that our conventional mistake of presuming the opposite—presuming that the contest-for-prize framework and excellence of performance are somehow related as a unique cause and effect—may be the deepest-lying prejudice of civilized thought.... Keeping score in any game—especially team games—is a substantial indication that the activity in question is not interesting enough in itself to those who keep score."
The forms of Ecosport will be enormously varied. Soccer, which may be one of the Big Four in America within a decade, is an offspring of Ecosport, for it is flowing, natural and played by men who are built on a human scale and need no sophisticated equipment. The fine and gentle pastimes will increase, such as orienteering, hiking, non-competitive swimming.
The emphasis in Ecosport is on unstructured play. Perhaps the ultimate event in such a scenario is something one may call the Never Never Game, since it is a sport invented on the spot for a given afternoon, something that was never, never played before and will never, never be played again. The Never Never Game eliminates all specialists, all statistics. It demands the ordinary all-round person, the average man, since one can never know what skills will be demanded in the game of the day.
The Never Never Game: It is a soft sunny afternoon and on a meadow somewhere in the U. S. about 100 people—men, women, children—have gathered. They separate into two groups, approximately equal, and a man carries a small container filled with beads of half a dozen different colors. Under his arm he has the Never Never Game Book. This book is filled with myriad possibilities for games—one section has different kinds of balls or stones or items to be used, another section has lists of field sizes and shapes, another the rules of play for many games. Each of the different items in each section is identified with a color combination. The man in the center of the meadow reaches into the Never Never bead jar and without looking takes out a handful of beads and throws them on the ground. The colors are two reds, a yellow, four blues, a white, two greens. In the Never Never Book section on "game balls" he finds "a disk the size of a pie plate" next to this color combination. He throws more beads on the ground, finds that the combination in the "field size" section calls for a circular area 300 yards in diameter. More beads: the game will last three hours. More beads: players will hop on one leg. They will use forked sticks to carry the disk to the perimeter of the field. When one player carries the disk through the other team he may hop on either leg but when two players share in carrying the disk with their forked sticks they may both use both legs—etc., etc.
After consultation to arrange tactics and review the rules, the Never Never Game begins. After three hours it is over. The score is inconsequential, no records are kept, and no specialists are discovered or developed. Everyone has played, some better in this Never Never Game than in another. This game will never be played again. The next Never Never Game may involve flocks of butterflies as the "game ball," perhaps a net across the field with which to catch them, perhaps balloons to fend off the other team's butterflies. Who knows? Who cares? The point of Ecosport—as of all sport—is to play, to enjoy, to exist.