Sports Is Like Politics The Way A Camel Is Like A Horse. But That Won't Stop The Comparisons
In this season of elections— the Canadian federal just past and the U.S. presidential upcoming— it is deemed fashionable to compare politics and sports. Usually the TV political hacks employing the most creaking analogies— “He knocked that question out of the park, Anderson” —are people who have barely a passing acquaintance with sports. Not that they’re dissuaded from the whackfest.
“Bret, the candidate with best ground game will win”
“We need to blitz the voters and run up the score, Peter.”
“It’s going to take a Hail Mary for Rubio to win now, Wolf.”
Despite such tortured efforts in using sports to explain politics, there are stark differences between the two.
1) In sports, you are what your record says you are. In politics? Not so much. As NHL legend Patrick Roy once told a critical Jeremy Roenick, “I can’t hear Jeremy because my two Stanley Cup rings are blocking my ears”. That’s why a second Super Bowl was vital to Peyton Manning’s reputation. Close don’t count. Championships do. But Al Gore can dine out forever on the notion that he was robbed of then presidency despite failing to carry his home state of Tennessee in 2000. Hillary Clinton is the latest manifestation of the hollow resumé that purports to be a beacon of success. And Justin Trudeau’s ski instructor/ bouncer background can qualify as a robust record in political circles.
And don’t fear for the precious political darlings in retirement. While you must collect trophies to have an afterlife in sports, a lack of accomplishment will be no handicap when you’ve lost your last election. See: Jimmy Carter.
2) At the end of the day, sports produces a result. Win, lose or draw you can rest at night knowing that the a result has been achieved. The heroes and villains are easily identified. In politics the goal is to obscure the result at the end of the day through delay, obfuscation or the blinding data storm known as an omnibus bill. Everything in the body politic strains against judgment, avoids responsibility and seeks to postpone catharsis.
So we have Marco Rubio taking another shot in the chops electorally, then declaring it a big win for his side. Or Thomas Mulcair spinning his drubbing at the hands of Trudeau to be a small setback on the road to socialist glory.
3) You can re-litigate the past for fun and profit in politics. From president Obama re-opening the Crusades for a reappraisal to Hillary Clinton approving of reparations from slavery, politics is apparently a time machine where you can go back to repair history. As Expos fans know only too well, Rick Monday is always taking Steve Rogers out of the Big O in the NL playoffs of 1981. Get used to it.
4) Sports is truly a festival of great bodies and stunning physiques. Politics, as the saying goes, is show business for the homely. So where we have the chiseled physique of NBA star Dwight Howard, politics has the souffléd scalp of Donald Trump or the screaming skullet of Bernie Sanders. Perhaps the best line of the U.S. election so far was the observation on Lady Pantsuit, Hillary Clinton: “If she loves the gays as much as she says, why won’t she left them dress her?”
5) The outcome in sports invariably comes down to talent. Injuries and referees get in the equation occasionally, but Jonathan Toews, Jordan Spieth or Serena Williams are going to persevere more often than not. A peek at the six people left in the American presidential hunt will tell you that talent is a very small part of what determines winning the Oval Office.
6) Wishing it were so is gold in politics, but not so much when facing LeBron James pounding through the lane. Whether it’s Bernie Sanders promising free everything in perpetuity or Donald Trump announcing he’ll build a wall, politics is the Art of the Dream. (At least Trump says Mexico will pay for the wall; Bernie thinks Scrooge McDuck will cough up for his “free” health care). In fact, the more implausible the dream the bigger chance you’ll be deemed a visionary by the acquiescent media. You can have big dreams in sports, but if you can’t handle Novak Djokovic’s backhand dreams are all they’ll be.
7) Finally— and most significantly—when a sports team decides to change its offence or trade goalies or play for the three-run home run it doesn’t tap other people’s money to do so. But in politics, every rosy future is paid out of someone else's pocket. If politicians had to suffer the financial consequences a sports owner does from an ill-begotten draft strategy or blockbuster trade there’d be a lot fewer wind turbines and lot more take-home pay at the end of the day.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).