We human beings are studies in contradictions, and nowhere is this truer than when it comes to sports. Take the NFL and its legions of fans, who, despite the heavy dose of violence meted out each week, sit in stadiums or riveted to their TV screens every Sunday cheering on their team. And not all those fans fit the stereotypical image of the fan as being brawny and male. It’s estimated that 45% of football’s 150 million fans are female.
I’ve always disliked football, for all its violence, its macho image—and have likened those watching it in stadiums to modern-day versions of Romans cheering on gladiators fighting for their lives in the Coliseum. Now that the negative impacts of football on players and their families are gaining more and more attention, (brain trauma and early-onset dementia in as high as one in three players, domestic assault, child abuse), some of those erstwhile fans are questioning their devotion to a sport that—there’s no getting around it—is downright brutal. Even knowing all that is wrong with it, some fans can’t give up their addiction and continue to watch games despite themselves. That’s why, despite my fondest hopes, the game isn’t going away anytime soon.
I’m not standing on the moral high ground feeling proud of myself, though. I have my own contradictions. And one of them is this: I love baseball. I always have, from a very young age. Sure, it’s not the contact sport that football is. There are the occasional collisions at the plate (rarer, now that baseball has outlawed blocking home plate) or the occasional batter being hit in the head with a fastball, but its players are not subject to the constant brain-jarring tackles (and resulting concussions) that football players are. Still, baseball has its downsides. I’m an environmentalist, so for me, the biggest downside (besides the ridiculous sums of money that men are paid to play it) is the negative impact the sport has on the environment. Consider that each of the 30 major league teams plays 162 regular season games. Half of those 4,860 games are played away from home, which means travel, lots of it, mostly on airplanes, and airplane travel is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. And that’s not all. Think about the enormous amount of waste generated at each of those baseball games. In recent years, most teams have initiated “green” programs to reduce the amount of waste generated at its games, but even if soda cans and glass bottles get recycled, there’s still a huge amount food, container, wrapper, napkin, and plasticware waste. And then, there are the baseballs. Each is used only a few times. The average number of baseballs used in one game is five to six dozen. That means anywhere from 291,600 to 349,920 balls are used in one season alone. All these impacts make baseball a far worse sport environmentally than football. (The NFL’s 32 teams each play only 16 games per season, for a total of 512, meaning far fewer airplane rides, far less trash generated, and far fewer balls used than in baseball.) You’d think that, since the environment matters so much to me, I would stop watching baseball. But I can’t. I fully admit to an addiction. I love the complexity of baseball, its rules, its rhythms, the battles between pitcher and batter, the statistics. I don’t know why. I just do. I’m a human being, which means I’m a study in contradictions. Just like you.