Typical thought provoking article. Ultimately, I think the culture war in sports is like it is everywhere else. Largely, a stalemate. People who take extreme positions on politics get roasted on twitter regardless of the side.

I'm a conservative and watch all sports. College football is far and away the number one sport among conservatives in the southern part of the country and it is doing just fine. As unhinged as it has ever been. NY and LA based sports writers do not care about college football so it is not talked about but it has the second highest sports viewership numbers by a wide margin.

I think corporations and sports leagues will ultimately decide what smart individuals have decided. We aren't going to talk about it. It's too risky and not worth the hassle.

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It's funny how politics makes liars of us all and also how quickly things can flip. The party that hated corporations as corrupt greedy evil lovers of money defend the pharmaceutical/social media/apparel companies and the other side is now looking very leery at those same corporations that they used to defend, or how passing laws and creating and using the surveillance state to defeat Islamic "terrorism" is now being used on domestic "terrorists" and so and so forth...

I recently heard two died in the wool liberal 50 something Phd/MD who for their entire lives fought for "single payer" or "socialized" medicine admit that the last two years they've about faced on that belief because they do not trust the government to make good healthcare decisions for the country anymore, they're now talking like states righters but they at least admit how they'd have never seen this coming till it did.

The one thing that I think people would do well to understand is that everything you are confident of in politics and life can boomerang (shout out to Simpsons "that stick throwing stunt of yours has boomeranged us"), but people still seem to think that if they just pass X or Y law all will be good instead of realizing that it can, and most likely will be used against them in some unforeseen way.

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Jun 28, 2023Liked by Ethan Strauss

Thanks for including Jonathan Tjarks - we include him and his family in our nightly prayers. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

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It's not going to get the most attention, but I loved the conclusion of this piece. It's so easy to be cynical, angry, distracted these day. But sports can be so f'ing great. The right game at the right time - It's really one of the great experiences in life.

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Great piece as always.

The sports leagues en masse were forced to adopt social Justice measures in wake of George Floyd. Such measures included adopting “pro-social” messaging (e.g., NBA jerseys) and instituting internal corporate governance changes (creating new DEI/like divisions with actual influence on decisions that affect the bottom line, like what you see with the NHL chief of marketing officer referenced therein).

I think while you’re seeing the leagues back off on the messaging, they haven’t all been successful in unwinding the internal bureaucracy empowered to pursue SJ objectives. This dodger situation is a perfect example; some low level HR rep with SJ prerogatives was probably responsible for organizing the event that took place. Well within the job description, but definitely beyond the true focus of the job -- promote the team and avoid controversy.

I’m not going to argue whether declining viewership has to do with the elevation of SJ messaging, as I think there are too many confounders involved, but I will say that corporations are evidently concerned now, unlike in 2020, about potential backlash. Making decisions to acquiesce to the concerns of the permanently online progressive left bears a big risk. And there are many permanently online liberals working for these organizations. Just ask Bud Light.

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By their very structure, sports are not “progressive” in the modern sense. Inequity, a kind of exemplified genetic superiority, winner takes all competition to be a “champion”, etc..are built into the very core of the contests. (Even Soviets used sports to show their superiority, not the equality of the international proletariat).

Sports will attract a fanbase that is on the whole temperamentally wired to be attracted to these things. You can’t rewire them. You try, and you will slowly alienate them. If you want new fans, you need to find and cultivate people with that kind of temperament. People without it just won’t really care. The real progressive value of sports is not necessarily progressive, they are an avenue by which you can assimilate members of outsider groups who have the same (what I’m kinda call rightish) temperament into the mainstream.

The military is a somewhat apt analogy. It’s another inherently non-progressive organization reliant on people with non-progressive temperaments. It tried a fairly mild shift to more progressive messaging to secure long term viability by appealing to “youth.” Its recruiting is now in crises.

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Jun 28, 2023·edited Jun 28, 2023

You can still see remnants of the George W. Bush-era military propaganda at sporting events. Back when I first started going to Nationals games in 2008 they would have this "let's all stand and clap for these veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistant" after the second inning. Back then I thought it was a nice gesture.

But they kept doing this thing where they bring out members of the military so people can clap for them. And they don't even bother to tell us whether the soldiers, marines and airman who are standing behind home plate have even come close to a theater of combat. It's gross and weird and I don't stand and clap anymore unless I'm told that they were in danger as members of the military.

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'I did not hear a single boo' Good lord, I think even Trump would blush at that one.

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Jul 1, 2023Liked by Ethan Strauss

Can we get a podcast with Matt Welch to discuss this?

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Not a male nun. Men in nun costume. Perhaps there *should* be an group in schism with the Roman Catholic Church that accepts transwomen, just as there’s a group (in schism) which ordains female priests. However the whole purpose of SPI is, as Ethan points out, to be a mockery of religious sisters not to live out their vocation. (Also, unlike religious sisters, nuns stay in convents. At least the Sisters of PI get that part right)

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As a kid, I was a dyed-in-the-wool sports fan. Then in college I grew uncomfortable with the tribal warfare mentality it seemed to unlock in myself and others. Now, having experienced the gross political culture warfare of the last 6-10 years I LONG for everyone to channel their stupid tribal instincts back into something so harmless as the local sports team’s success.

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"Nerdy libs were outside the arena, looking in, wondering how they’d ever connect with a public susceptible to its bellicose substrate."

I remember the W Bush era well, and the Nerdy Libs weren't looking for anything except for how they and their 'team' could get in power. The veil of 'justice' and 'caring' and 'equity' is nothing but a bludgeon to gain control. Now that that 'team' is in control, it would be easy to see Biden exhort the NFL crowd to defend Ukraine to the last Ukranian, and have a little girl offer up her father for the fight. Insert hashtag Ukraine and flag here. Were someone go against that, they'd get roasted on Twitter and other sites, to put it mildly. Not very much has changed - the names are different, but the Top of the Pyramid and the MIC seem to always win out. Carroll Quigley (Bill Clinton's mentor) was right, and he wrote about this power swing quite well.

The 'Sisters' are particularly loathsome, and the hypocrisy in their act is off the charts. Kershaw called it out - good for him. This obsession with making heroes of guys who dress like women and put their junk in another man at night is odd. I, like you, would like to know if they savagely mock other faiths. Maybe they do - who knows? What's even more strange is the large army of powerful people and institutions who won't allow you to criticize it, or them, in any way. That the Dodger organization didn't just say "nah, that's not what we're about" is telling.

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Jun 29, 2023·edited Jun 29, 2023

Very good article Ethan. The Angles anecdote is hilarious, you're on the right track when dissecting leagues' desires to attract younger fans, and I think you make a beautiful pitch for the transcendent and intangible cultural value of Sport and Competition, which Chomsky Sportsball-ites both left and right are missing. And as a fellow 30something, I certainly agree that liberals have made a massive comeback since the W Bush era in terms of "conquering what reads as neutral", as you put it.

However, having read you for awhile now, I do think you consistently somewhat overrate the extent of said comeback - offering it as a full-on turning of the tables - which in my opinion is the result of the common error of overrating each sides' self-branding when evaluating the situation at large. That is to say, I disagree that truly powerful liberals still want to maintain their underdog appearance, and much favor your seemingly contradictory assertion about conquering neutrality - with the important caveat that *being branded as an Outsider, to be appreciated only by other nonconformists, has its own value*, and that we live in a yet another moment where Blue and Red branded institutions (owned by a more overlapping group than you'd think!) mostly understand who should try to squeeze value from each path (ie for people like Rogan and Travis, the appearance of being an iconoclast has inherent value beyond the individual opinions themselves, and this is largely the source of avant-red Takes like that ridiculous Cernovich tweet).

It's funny you bring up the W Bush era, because while it was definitely the apex of conservatism's mainstream dominance in our 30something lifetimes (because of 9/11), it was also an inflection point in the two "sides" largely reversing the brands. You could argue it started in more in his father's era, with Dan Quayle's downhome simpleton branding and also the rise of the "insurgent" militia movement, but W's alleged stupidity was a huge catalyst toward the current and novel conception that Blue is the more educated and affluent (or snooty) team, and the 00 and 04 elections were the beginnings of the "republicans are a(n insurgent) threat to this country's democracy" spiel that's become the DNC's well-worn calling card.

To pull an anecdote from that era that hopefully demonstrates some of this: before starting to publicly question the MMR vaccine, Andrew Wakefield was by all accounts a liberal, and the fledling Anti-Vax movement was mostly blue-coded hippies. However, as the 00s wore on, his primary media boosters became Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Simultaneously, England's *The Times* had repoter Brian Deer writing multiple exposes on Wakefield's fraudulent research. Except *The Times* is also owned by Rupert Murdoch. And while the latter is definitely viewed as more Prestigious, if Fox News makes Murdoch more money (idk) and Wakefield has a larger cultural impact than Deer even today (yes), does that Prestige branding tell us much? Either way, Wakefield eventually took the only logical path for himself, rebranding as an Anti-Establishment Dissident conservative who attended Trump's inauguration party.

Also, if we're going to go down the road of "how did the polarity ~reverse?", it's probably malpractice not to bring up the fact that, in the detatched sociological sense we were discussing 9/11, *covid is 9/11 for liberals*, which should hopefully ring true sociologically regardless of one's stance on who's correct about the details there. As such, we may be living through a bit of a local maximum for Blue=Neutral/Default that's analogous to the post-9/11 red apex you discussed.

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I have read all your pieces you have published on (your own personal) Substack, Ethan. I have seen some excellent pieces that certainly have range, and I see other pieces, where it is so promising yet you can't marry all the parts together. And then I have seen simpler pieces, that are nice and enjoyable, but mostly stay in only one or two lanes. But, WOW!!! How you were able to marry so many different parts together here, and fucking land the plane! Bravo, Sir!

PS - I also have been reading a bit of Freddie deBoer lately and his PIXAR takes, and what genius truly is. This piece segwayed very nicely for me into seeing what genius looks like on paper (well, actually written on computer).

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Really love the bit about the leagues themselves becoming the "spoil-sports." It's especially unfortunate because sports is the kind of the last bastion of a shared national cultural practice. Everything else has been divided so starkly along wealth and educational lines, which have turned fueled the ferocity and bitterness of the political and culture war enmity. People don't want politics in their sports because it spoils it, but it's not only that. I often think, can I go anywhere or do anything without being on the receiving end of a sanctimonious lecture about this -ism or that injustice, or worse, fearing what will happen if I hesitate to express support for the dominant cultural force's impositions. You can't sit at the dinner table, you can't go to work, you can't turn on the TV. I just want one place where we, as Americans, or people from whatever state or city the team is from, can not be picking a fight with each other or grandstanding about some bullshit, but rather collectively enjoy this fun but meaningless bullshit! Can't we just have one thing?

Because in some ways, it's sort of self-contradictory to complain about sports being used to push narratives/propaganda that having nothing to do with the game. That is because, without narratives, there is no sport at all. It's just dudes putting a ball in a place. Sports very much IS the creation of narratives which are based in some way on the literal game but ultimately have little to do with it. I always think of this when I hear people praise a player's work ethic. Why do we respect someone's dedication and commitment... to the pointless activity of throwing a ball into a hole? Why didnt this guy work hard at, I dont know, becoming a doctor? We respect it because as a culture we respect people single-minded obsessive work ethic as a value, independent of what it is for. The same reason we expect players to be "role models" - if they weren't good people outside of the game, we wouldn't feel good about worshipping them and paying millions of dollars to do something pointless. So, you have to impose narratives on the game, but they have to be the right ones in order for people to enjoy it.

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The religious impulse is inherent.

This is destructive to channel through politics, pathetic through sports, and best toward theosis to the Logos.

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