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His unintentional throw-away aphorism, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” (now destined for along with other imperishable platitudes), struck some kind of primal chord in the American psyche and became a powerful catalyst in reversing once and for all the traditional belief that in athletic combat the how one played the game— should transcend all other values.Winning, and winning big, literally did become the only thing all across the board.
By 1976 all these elements converged to form a national breakdown of values from which there seemed to be no turning back.
In attempting to make some sense out of this phenomenon, one should perhaps begin with the fact that in the decade following World War II Americans enjoyed an unprecedented affluence which was accompanied by a movement away from the urgency of the work ethic.
This trend created a kind of “leisure vacuum” which shouted to be filled.
Thus began the commercialization and proliferation of sports.
Sports, especially the professional branch, rather abruptly began to reflect the darker side of America.
Among franchise owners a kind of uncontrolled greed set in; on the playing field, violence, in too many instances, became an end in itself; the fans, collectively, took on a meanness and ugliness that were distinctly alien to the traditional public behavior of Americans.
The club owners and the television networks, with dollar signs dangling before their eyes, oblige by providing enough “fixes” to millions of sports fans to assure two types of perpetual “highs”—one of the manic variety, evidenced by the increasingly wild crowd behavior in stadiums and arenas, the other a kind of glassy-eyed somnambulistic state induced by watching hours of televised sporting events in the home.
At this point, precious few of these sports addicts have demonstrated any inclination to kick their’habit, which is rapidly developing into a social problem of disturbing proportions.
A man may take a drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” Sports addiction seems to follow a similar pattern: an athletic contest provides a means by which one can find a healthy escape into a world of heroics, physical combat, and ritualized violence.
But as the opportunities to escape increase, the need for a “fix” becomes more urgent.