The Allegory of the Cave for the 21st Century

To Plato, with Gratitude

Deep beneath the stadium lies a cave. In this cave stand tall compartments. Hanging in the compartments are various pieces of equipment. Belts. Pads. Helmets. Cleats. All the tools of the trade. Facing these compartments are players. These players have spent their entire lives in this cave and no very little of the world outside other than the muffled adulation from adoring fans. All that they know, all that they care to understand exists here, deep beneath the stadium.

Of course the players have each other. They call themselves a ‘brotherhood’ because to them, this is what family means. Their perception of how the world works, how the world operates, is formed from filtered conversations with one another as they sit and stare at the compartments in front of them. Since they rarely escape the confines of the cave they know very little of the outside world, the world that exists beyond the media rooms. Beyond the concessions stands and parking lots. Beyond the millions upon millions of admirers.

Assume that one of these players was to break free from the chains that bind them to their cave deep beneath the stadium. That player, exposed to life beyond the stadium walls for the first time would be traumatized as their bodies and minds adjust to the way the world works and thinks beyond the comfort of the cave. For the first time this player would encounter perspectives and preferences never heard or discussed before in the cave. At least not publicly. In the society beyond the cave people are accepting of differences. Not just because it’s convenient or because it’s fits the system but because it is moral, logical thing to do.

When this player returns to the cave deep beneath the stadium he visits each of the compartments and tells his fellow teammates about his experiences in the outside world and how people in normal society typically operate with understanding and compassion. He talks about how in the real world the term ‘brotherhood’ refers to all of humanity not just the players in the cave.

His fellow players would not believe him because they have never experienced life outside the walls of their cave therefore the world that is being described to them cannot be real. Acceptance is only an idea to them. an idea which is given plenty of lip service but in their sheltered reality is representative of a double standard. What is said publicly in front of the camera is quite different then what is acted on stage behind the closed doors of the cave.

When the player asks his leaders if they’d be interested in exposing the cave to a more diverse spectrum of ideas and interests the leader say ‘no’, too much of a distraction. They have serious jobs to do. Better to remain amongst the safety and protection of like minded souls. Yet to this player, this particular stance is hypocritical and prejudiced. How as a leader can you tolerate some ‘distractions’ and not others? Is is simply the difference between being a first round draft pick and the first openly gay player?

What these players and leaders fail to realize in their cave deep beneath the stadium is that change is inevitable and that eventually the barriers that keep them protected from the rest of society will fall down. Only then will they realize that acceptance is a real thing.

 

Sports For Breakfast Not Dinner

If you were one of the roughly 2% of households tuning into to ESPN’s Sunday final round coverage of The Open Championship you were witness to history. No not Rory McIlroy becoming only the 3rd golfer ever to win three major championships by the age of 25 (move over Jack and Tiger). An impressive feat but not the kind of accomplishment sports fans will be talking about years from now. No, what Sunday, and Saturday for that matter as well, proved is that major sporting events are much better when served in the morning as opposed to their traditional afternoon or evening time slots.

As the entire state of California shakes their collective head in agreement, it is not often that us folks on the East Coast are privileged to such an enjoyable viewing experience. Outside of The Open Championship what other major sporting events can be seen in the morning on the East Coast? Wimbledon? Premier League Soccer? An occasional Olympics? The point being, watching sports in the morning is a much more enjoyable experience for viewers because you don’t have to wait and when it’s over you still have an entire day in front of you.

What needs to happen now is for television networks and sports leagues to get together and agree to broadcast more of their weekend games in the early morning on the East Coast. And we’re not talking about just sporting events that occur across the pond in Europe and Asia but big time college and pro basketball, baseball and football.

But why would television networks and leagues agree to such an absurd change when they’re already making obscene amounts of money? What’s in it for them? Fair point. Television networks are motivated by two things: eyeballs and advertisers. But is it the time of day the games air that make them so attractive/lucrative or is it the games themselves?

For the sake of logic, let’s just say that major sporting events will be popular regardless of what time they air. By moving big games away from the evening/afternoon East Coast time slot to the morning the audience should follow. And if there is an audience then it’s only a matter of time before companies like Proctor & Gamble and Pfizer will rush to showcase their latest elixir for low “T”.

But what about the West Coast? Why would networks essentially sacrifice half their audience? Two reasons:

1) California has been spoiled for years now what with NFL games on at 10am so they can keep quiet. Plus people who live in Los Angeles are all vampires anyway who can subsist without much sleep and as long as they’re fed plenty of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and e-cigarettes they should be able to catch the 6am start of most games.

2) Currently since networks like to start the really big games at 9pm EST most of the entire audience on the Eastern seaboard is asleep before the game is halfway done. Unless these people are falling asleep with their tv’s on this inactivity has to affect ratings. Also, why would advertisers continue to market their really popular products late at night if they know that a good portion of potential consumers are snoring on the couch?

Clearly the networks and advertisers will agree to move games to an early morning start on the East Coast but what about the athletes, the ultimate creatures of habit? Well since these professional are being paid ludicrous amounts of money to play a game they will eventually do as they’re told. And before player’s unions begin threatening any grievances they better check with their night owl members who will love this new schedule because no night games on the weekends means they’re now free to hit the clubs or read their Bibles much much earlier in the evening.

The big winner in all these changes are going to be fans on the East Coast who will now be able to wake up and watch all of their favorite sporting events in the morning instead of wasting all day waiting for the games to begin. Parenting will improve significantly because no true fan can focus on being a mom or dad when their favorite team is scheduled to play that night. And the counter programming in the morning is much more educational than what’s on in the afternoon so real progressive parents can watch the games in peace knowing that their kids are staring at a screen that may have some minor intellectual value.

Changing this system will be a massive undertaking involving television networks, professional sports leagues, athletes and fans but if enough of us sports addicts on the East Coast stand united, a revolution will follow and it will be televised. In the morning.

A Requiem For Rio

A boy, around 12, dreams of one day playing for his country in the World Cup. His young life is consumed by this passion. It is all he knows, all he cares to believe. The boy is still young enough to not fully understand the obstacles in his path. For he comes from a poor family in one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city where innocence is easily corrupted by the harsh realities of life in the slums. But this boy’s life remains rich because of dreams. Dreams that go undeterred regardless of the lack of opportunities afforded. Life for the boy will be difficult but the goal always remains the same. To proudly wear his country’s colors on the grandest stage in soccer.

He rises early, sleep has always had a way of wasting his energy. His younger brothers and sisters lay peacefully on the mattress beside him. He is careful not to wake his family. His neighborhood is quiet now but that was not the case hours before when the early morning darkness was littered with the disruptive sounds of motorcycles and wild dogs, the soundtrack to his slumber. His younger siblings do not yet understand the pain and loss attached to these sounds but the boy remembers that time not too long ago when their mother became the innocent victim of a drive by shooting. In an instant her life was taken by a stray bullet.

The government says murders are down but missing persons are up so you do the math. Just the other day a car parked directly outside the boy’s apartment contained a dead body in the trunk plugged with so many bullet holes that is could have only been the outcome of a drug deal gone bad. Or an over zealous police officer charged with maintaining order in the slums. Either way, since the death of his mother the boy and his family had to choose sides and the decision was easy. The boy’s father hides from these memories out of duty to his children. Night shifts in this city provide more danger than dollars so the boy must work too.Before he departs for the day he makes sure to grab his soccer ball, a constant reminder of his true purpose in life.

The boy exits down the stairs and steps out onto the severely sloped sidewalk. Below, the city skyline pushing past the morning mist. Newly constructed hotels and restaurants nestled between the clouds. Monuments to the tourists who traveled down to the southern hemisphere to watch a soccer tournament. Up the hill and all around nothing but ramshackle tin roofs and repurposed metal siding, reminders that this boy’s life is a true tale of two cities. About the only thing that floats its way downtown from the slums is raw sewage, polluting some of the most popular, majestic beaches in the entire world yet you won’t find this fun fact on the back of any postcard.

Dribbling past the carnage of despair the boy begins his work. Couriering messages for local drug dealers is not how most children would envision spending their days but the little money made is enough to help this boy’s family survive. A boy his age should be in school but who has time for a proper education when there needs to be food on the table.

The boy still dreams of one day playing for his country in the World Cup. But his country has done very little to earn his, or thousands of other young boys and girls loyalty and obedience. Hosting this summer’s World Cup was just the latest in a string of negligent decision committed by a group of bureaucrats who have no real idea how bad life is in the slums of the city. Those billions of dollars spent on building stadiums and hotels could have been used instead to create the type of infrastructure necessary to provide more people in the country with an opportunity to improve their lives. This boy doesn’t yet understand that very few will one day develop the kind of talent and fortune to wear the yellow jersey so synonymous with soccer success. Instead, what he and countless others require are basic services like sanitation, health care and education which are the only things that can promote sustainable social and economic stability in his country

It’s early afternoon and the boy has reached his favorite part of the day. The field rests behind lock and key. The only green grass in the neighborhood controlled by the local cartel and for use only on special occasions. But the boy knows a way in and the drug dealers, his bosses, look the other way. Call it a reward for a job well done. Now everyday the boy and his soccer ball step onto the stage and live that dream.

The boy crosses onto the pitch right as the afternoon shadows start to make their way across the green grass. No television cameras. No fans. No empty promises of millions of dollars in revenue for the country. Just a dream and a soccer ball.

The boy dribbles up and down the field executing the moves that he rehearses from dusk till dawn along the narrow dirt roads and dark alleyways of his neighborhood. ‘One day’, he says, ‘one day the people of my country will come to watch me play and I will bring us all glory’.

Today, this small arena, like all the million dollar edifices built around the country for the World Cup, is empty and as the sun tires, the boys energy remains high. But reality sets in and he must return to work.

With his time at the park over, the boy continues on his journey through the neighborhood. He is a messenger, carrying only information and a soccer ball. His employers value his discretion, the boy is doing what he needs to do to survive. He sees and hears things that would give most boys his age nightmares. Drugs, guns and death. Yet this boy only dreams.  Help will not come for the children of his neighborhood. The boy understands which is why the single tool of his trade remains tethered at all times to his left and right foot. If the government won’t help then he must help himself become the champion his country deserves.

The boy returns home, tired and happy his siblings sleeping peacefully on the floor. A note from his father carefully placed on the kitchen counter asking his eldest child to care for his younger brother and sisters until he returns in the morning. The boy rolls his soccer ball back towards the front door and gently slips under the covers next to his family. His eyes remain open as he replays the day’s events over and over in his mind. What a thrill it was to dribble up and down that field, to imagine what it must be like to play alongside the greatest players in the world representing his country, a country that has done nothing for him. A dream come true for this boy. Sleep will have to wait.