On the Necessity of Evil

Given the premise of this site, the assertion that a little bit of evil is a necessity of life, or at least sports, should come as no surprise. Sitting here with the Olympics on the tube, this is more clear than ever. Without the big bad Soviet Empire out there as competition, these Games just don’t have the same frisson of excitement. Yes, the Olympics are about idealism, and yes it is “ideal” to see the world’s best athletes giving it their all in one grand competition, and yes, we know that’s all we really should need. But somehow it’s not enough. Because we’re human, and as beautiful as it may be to watch some wonderjock land a backside 540 or a triple salchow, without the tension of a nemesis, well, the whole thing lacks drama.

The truism holds when it comes to our national pastime. Yes, it’s a joy to watch the precision of Mariano Rivera as he mows down the bottom third of the Royal lineup. But what makes the sport exciting is the prospect of his doing the same to the top of the Boston order. Deciding exactly what player or team is “evil” is, of course, a matter of choice or perspective. But we all need our chosen enemies. The Red Sox need their Yankees. The Yankees need their Red Sox. Bring ’em on.

20 comments… add one
  • I’ve been thinking a lot about this, about how George Steinbrenner is really, really good not just for the Red Sox but for baseball in general. He consciously made the decision to be “the heavy”, to be the guy who spent as much of his own money as possible to buy the biggest names in order to win. He loves being the bad guy, and that’s not only what makes the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry fun, it’s also fuel for all of the medium-to-small market teams to upset the Biggest Payroll In Baseball. A sport needs a heel…

    Hunter February 14, 2006, 1:57 am
  • Amen to that. Every sport needs its Lex Luthor, its East German Women’s Swim Team. Some of the smaller market teams/countries might disagree, but vive la rivalit√©!

    Eric February 14, 2006, 10:21 am
  • Amen to that… but I’ll go one step further. Every sport and team needs a true rival – one that wins about half of the time. One of the things that makes, for instance, Michigan – Ohio State football such an amazing rivalry is that each team wins about half of the time. Both teams have knocked the other out of national title contention, and both have won their conference on the other guys’ field. I thought the single best thing to make the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry that much more compelling was the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 – that let stress and tension into watching the games, instead of YF’s smug assurance that the Yanks will pull it out in the end.
    (I’m a YF also, BTW.)

    Chuck May February 14, 2006, 11:18 am
  • I am not so sure I agree with YF on this one. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Winter Games this year, though I may be in the minority. I have avoided the results, and have viewed the evening broadcasts without knowledge of the winners and losers and have been quite entertained, particularly by the refreshingly candid and stoner-esque snowboarders. There was tension when Shaun White needed to come up big to make the finals after stumbling on his first run in the half-pipe. Honestly. The lack of an evil empire or a bizzarely broad-shouldered lady skiier hasn’t registered with me. Some of us don’t need enemies as badly as others.
    I have a feeling YF is projecting his own needs and sense of place onto all of us. He clearly wants us all to admit that sports needs a villain, and therefore baseball needs the Yankees (is there a bigger villain anywhere?). In extending this to the Olympics (and, I fear, all sports for that matter), he positions his own team at the center. That’s not a fully mature appreciation of athleticism and clean, villain-less competition. Sometimes it’s fun, thrilling, and yes, dramatic to watch sports without an identified enemy.

    SF February 14, 2006, 11:19 am
  • “He clearly wants us all to admit that sports needs a villain, and therefore baseball needs the Yankees (is there a bigger villain anywhere?).”
    I’m going to say that Florida’s management (you know the one that failed to extort money for a stadium from the public and is now looking at new locales across America) is worse for baseball than an ownership that empties its pocketbooks to field a winning team every year. Or, how about the several teams that fail to use the money from revenue sharing to substantially increase their payrolls? The odd thing is that you obviously agree with YF’s central point, else why run this site? I thought he was just re-wording YFvSF’s mission statement.

    Nick February 14, 2006, 12:13 pm
  • Nick, I am saying that what’s good for this site is not necessarily universal. Yes, the good vs. evil thing is usually a hell of a storyline, and it’s also a major reason why sports in general are alluring: rivalries are great, potentially dramatic things. It’s why I hated Amherst (but not Wesleyan – you guys were never really a threat!). But as far as the Olympics go, and this is where I have a beef, I am having no problem enjoying the games without a Red Menace, without an East German female swimmer named “Hermann”. My point is that YF thinks every sport needs it’s Yankees, such is the pervasive egomania of his Yankee fandom. It’s not true.

    SF February 14, 2006, 12:21 pm
  • No sale, SF. Or maybe you’re just a better man than me. But as far as I’m concerned the tension created by the Flying Tomato’s botched qualifying run hardly gave his performance the air of drama, say, of Jesse Owens’ run in 1936 or Team USA’s hockey victory in 1980. The performance itself may have been exceptional, but it lacks the greater context of games past, at least from my perspective. (On the otherhand, a partisan from some smaller nation looking at a victory over the USA might feel differently).
    In any case, snowboarding leaves me especially, pardon the metaphor, cold; an X-games sport for children of wealth in wealthy nations glommed onto by the IOC in a craven effort to “attract youth” and satisfy the demands of American television and their advertisers. And I’m still wondering why such minimally popular sports such as curling or biathlon can be sanctioned for the Olympics while baseball, with over 250 million participants in more than 100 countries, is not.

    YF February 14, 2006, 12:22 pm
  • The Florida Marlins may be a terrible organization, and possibly bad for baseball, but they are not the Red Army team, the East German athletic apparatus. The metaphor doesn’t work because the Marlins aren’t dominant, they aren’t overt cheats.

    SF February 14, 2006, 12:23 pm
  • Jeez, you are so damned grumpy, YF. You sound like a curmudgeonly, grandfatherly geezer. Go sledding (or snowboarding) for heck’s sake. Whip off a fakie or a McTwist. There’s enough snow out there, surely. Enjoy the spectacle and athleticism of it all. Just for once go without a rivalry, we’ll be waist deep in that crap come next week.
    The perverted thing of it all is that YF is in a not so subtle way yearning for the days of the Iron Curtain, for the days of indentured communist servitude, all so he can enjoy the Olympics a bit more. How utterly selfish of him, wishing for the return of squalor, secret police, and imposed religion on the masses of Eastern Europe. Nice.
    You want drama? Watch “Dancing with the Stars”. I’ll take these Olympics.

    SF February 14, 2006, 12:31 pm
  • ” Deciding exactly what player or team is “evil” is, of course, a matter of choice or perspective.”
    SF, I think this is a key line from YF’s original statement, and one that you’re ignoring. Frankly, you universalizing the Yanks as the “evil” team only supports the stereotyped image that so many hold of the members of RSN (flame war alert!): You guys are so self-centered that you believe what you go through is the universal. Believe it or not, the Sox are villains to many fans (even ones who don’t root for the Yanks. Just check out Mike’s Rants on the Toaster. I believe he’s a Phils fan). The point, and I think YF makes it simply, is that a context of good versus evil is one of the driving forces of sports fandom. It’s a metaphoric good and evil, and I don’t think it should be feared.
    Re; Wesleyan. Yeah, I never paid attention to our sports teams, and we were always a step below Williams, Amherst, and Brown academically. Our nearest rivals were Brown, but, of course, we’re both schools filled with drug-admiring hipsters and hippies, and we’re too non-confrontational to really have a rivalry.

    Nick February 14, 2006, 12:44 pm
  • YF made a point about these Winter Olympics, and I don’t agree with it at all. I was doing an amateurish job of analyzing why he might make such a statement, and I have a feeling it’s tied to the place of the Yankees in sports history. He likes/wants/needs a villain not only because it makes a narrative but because the team he roots for occupies that central role, and for him it validates their position. Sure, the Sox are villains to some people, but come on, Nick, there’s really only one team that qualifies in MLB as it’s Sauron. I fully admit it’s terribly simplistic or maybe even wrong, but it’s not the central point I was trying to make. I was mostly disagreeing with his assessment of the Olympics as boring within this “every sport needs a villain to be interesting or dramatic” narrative. Surely our site benefits from the dynamic, and surely most every sport benefits from it, on this we can all agree, but I don’t think it’s a universality, and I have enjoyed this Olympics even as it lacks an identifiable villain or set of villains. It’s too bad for YF that he can’t.

    SF February 14, 2006, 1:03 pm
  • SF, do you realize that your comments and replies are always exactly the same in every thread? Here’s how they go: YF says something. You disagree, no matter what was said, and try to show how YF is less mature/projecting/some other vaguely insulting thing. Then when he replies, you never fail to follow up with “Lighten up SF! Get a sense of humor! You need to relax!”
    I know this is YF vs. SF, but get some new material.

    lighten up sf! February 14, 2006, 1:09 pm
  • LUSF, I like the pseduonym. For some reason I am tagged as the one who needs to lighten up, even though my co-blogger is the one who can’t bring himself to enjoy the Olympics and has to attach some sort of cockamamie neo-Marxian analysis to the FRIGGING HALF PIPE to explain why he it’s no fun. Perhaps YF should take up quail hunting for enjoyment?
    Puh-leeze.

    SF February 14, 2006, 1:26 pm
  • LUSF: if you read the site (and I am not convinced you aren’t YF or another one of our trusty commenters just trying to antagonize) you’d realize that YF and I have agreed on way more than we’ve disagreed in the last two months, and we’ve often been at odds with many of our visitors, on the same side of many issues.

    SF February 14, 2006, 1:28 pm
  • that last part is true. I found myself at odds with YF and SF so much these last couple of months that I was starting to believe YF was the Joe Lieberman of Yankees fans.

    Nick February 14, 2006, 1:33 pm
  • Now, now, SF. We both know you can check the ip address on LUSF, and confirm that this poster is not yours truly. I don’t need a pseudonym to antagonize you. (Not that I disagree with LUSF regarding rhetorical strategy.)
    Anyway, to clarify, I harbor no ill will to the halfpipe or its champion. It’s pretty amazing what those guys and gals can do, and the Tomato seems a completely admirable champion, and I anticipate we’ll be seeing much of him in the future. I, too, can enjoy watching these Olympics in all of their majesty (except for curling; that shit’s just boring; and what the hell was that opening ceremony all about?!?). But let’s not deny that there’s more drama when there’s a nemesis around.
    PS: Did anyone out there catch which nation wore the floppy-dog-ear hats from Dumb and Dumber during those opening ceremonies. Still trying to figure that out.

    YF February 14, 2006, 1:37 pm
  • Ouch, Nick. That’s harsh. Please don’t go there.

    YF February 14, 2006, 1:38 pm
  • YF February 14, 2006, 1:46 pm
  • Dude, what are you doing watching the opening ceremonies?!?! I’d rather go hunting with Dick Cheney.

    SF February 14, 2006, 2:28 pm
  • Like YF, I also cannot get excited about the Olympics. I am not remotely interested in how quickly a person can get down a hill with boards strapped to his feet. I am not remotely interested in watching a figure skater perform to a bastardized version of classical / pop music. Nothing about the Olympics – winter or summer – is compelling to me or of the remotest interest. I have not seen one second’s worth of Olympics in the better part of ten years, with the exception of by accident (when TiVo leaves the television on channel 3 after recording Sportscenter).
    If you enjoy them, great. More power to you! I hope that you derive great satisfaction from watching the Olympic Games. It’s just not for me.

    Chuck May February 15, 2006, 11:20 am

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