During the fall and winter I enjoy watching football. In the spring and summer I watch baseball. I’ve come to believe this is a good combination because these two are the Ying and Yang of American sports. They are composed of the competing and complementary forces of darknessand light, sun and moon, and male and female.
Moreover, each of these sports teaches us about both ourselves and the world we live in, which also might provide some clues about why we need to embrace—and need to respect—the full range of human experience and character that is exemplified in each.
Football is all about testosterone, inflicting pain, establishing dominance, and productively channeling unmitigated rage. With the exception of place kickers, the best players excel by tapping into the darkness in their souls, giving away their bodies one piece at a time and expecting those around them to do exactly the same. It is a warrior culture that harkens back to the bloody, brutal, and—however much we might want it to be otherwise—cruel human past that has created the slightly less violent world that we are fortunate to live in today.
Although baseball—at least at the professional level—is also played by men, it is a very different game. It is a game that one needs a quiet and focused mind to play at the highest level, is notably short on any brutality between players, and requires small and sometimes imperceptible physical adjustments in order to succeed. It is, at its core, a game of gentle yet implacable determination that places a premium on patience and self-control.
Football is the mosh pit at a Metallica concert; baseball is an evening at the ballet.
Force is an artifact of the play on a baseball diamond—the hard hit ball, the powerful throw, the charge around the base paths—but it is neither its core nor its purpose. It is a game of grace. Until, of course, someone gets hit in the head with a beanball. Then the dugouts empty, and it starts to more resemble football as the raw anger takes over.
Each of these two games represents a side of human nature that is necessary for the survival of humanity as a whole. We need people who forgive, but we also need those who can punish. Children need both fathers and mothers; they are never completely whole if one or the other is neglectful or absent. We need math, chemistry, and physics to build and maintain our modern world, yet our souls are empty without art, religion, and literature to help us to understand the wonder of our brief existences on this beautiful but ultimately uncaring planet.
A life that is too practical and earthbound is as bad as a life that is too impractical and filled with only dreams. A fully formed life has a place for both the blind side tackle that stretches out an opponent and the well-executed bunt that moves the base runner along so that someone else can revel in the glory of the hit that wins the game.
The best of us combine and value the contradictory inheritance of our violent and sublime history because we cannot escape the fundamental truth that we are, in fact, composed of precisely those competing and complementary forces of darkness and light, sun and moon, and male and female. We should be warriors who crave peace, thinkers who demand action, and ruthless practitioners who can also appreciate a poem.
Within us is both the brutal savage and the gentle nurturer, which is perhaps why our history—and each of our individuals lives—are filled to the brim with both complexity and contradiction. When it comes to our species, even the serial killers seem to inevitably have neighbors, families, and friends who speak kindly of them. This duality to our natures is perhaps the very best reason that we should be neither too judgmental nor too certain of our own goodness.
Consequently, we must strive to be more open to both new ideas and new experiences, for only in this way can we tame the urge to find enemies where we could find friends and stop ourselves from ignoring the pain we can easily cause to others. Baseball and football are fun games, but they also teach life lessons for us all about anger, love, retribution, forgiveness, competition, cooperation, joy, frustration—and ourselves.
Watch a few games and see.