CNN instead of commercials

| Staff Columnist

I’ve often wished Washington University had Division I athletics, but not for the athletics themselves. In the national powerhouse sense, Division I sports teams have the capacity to create a unique social energy. A flip through the family of ESPN networks almost any night of the week is confirmation enough to prove this case. The universities that are featured prominently on sports television programming seem to be on the precipice of electric eruption, manifested to an order of magnitude rarely seen on Wash. U.’s campus.

Last week, however, Wash. U.’s general abstinence from this type of environment was broken in a rather magnanimous fashion. The vice presidential debate submerged the campus in a buzz and energy that must have left ESPN’s favorite institutions teeming with envy. At times, it felt like the school was almost overflowing with cameras, television personalities and general debate-related euphoria. On the rare occasions I wasn’t engaged in the spectacle at hand, I couldn’t help but consider how different things might be if the mood generated by the debate were the norm rather than the extreme, entirely circumstantial exception. What if the nation at large, not just the populace of Wash. U., were constantly excited about politics to the extent that our campus was last Thursday? What if the country were to treat politics like it currently treats athletics?

I can only assume that this hypothetical would depart from the current reality in certain very tangible and very positive ways.

The city in which I was brought up is home to a university with Division I athletics. This particular university’s football team spent the early part of the decade in a position of national prominence. They were talented, entertaining and, for a five- or six-year stint, very successful. Toward the end of this string of successes, the football team’s coach resigned in order to accept a coaching position in the NFL. Since the coach’s departure, the university’s team has back-slided its way to mediocrity and a near-.500 record. Virtually everyone in the city is engaged enough in the university’s athletics to have a personal take on the football team’s recent struggles. Individuals who would likely be unable to tell you the names of the vice presidential nominees can espouse a relatively thorough argument as to the misgivings and solutions for the new coach’s incompetence. I can only imagine how different things might be in socio-political terms if this energy and focus were transposed from football onto politics or other social causes.

As people become more engaged in and educated about any particular thing, their ability to analyze and understand that subject grows exponentially. If people simply spent more time around politics and social dialogue, it seems only natural that their ability to interpret and influence these things would grow as well.

If instead of watching college football on Saturday afternoon, the citizenry of my hometown read the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, they would be as capable of speaking out against political figures as they are football coaches. I honestly believe that a good portion of the social and political issues which have recently befallen the country are due in large part to an unquestioning follow-the-leader type syndrome. On a number of levels, our nation’s politicians have led the country while the people blindly follow and end up in an unfortunate position. The simple remedy for this ill is a more educated and engaged constituency.

It’s in the best interest of our country, specifically the individuals of which it’s comprised, to engage in politics as fully as possible. I acknowledge entirely that this cannot, and never will, manifest itself in an omnipresent vice presidential debate-type atmosphere. Nor would I ever argue that the country should in fact drop athletics in lieu of some newfound political zeal. I would, however, encourage people to spend halftime of their favorite team’s next game watching CNN instead of commercials.

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