Sports: Not just a hobby, but an art

I understand that genius and art are subjective issues. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about someone else’s craft and one person’s strengths may not resonate with another individual. But one of my biggest pet peeves is outright dismissiveness.

It’s been bothering me lately because of some of the things I’ve seen written about Kanye West, who is a (somewhat self-inflicted) polarizing figure. Yes, he does speak highly of himself. The term “megalomaniac” is used more covering Kanye than any public figure I can ever remember. But listening to his lyrics actually illuminates the true dichotomy within us all – rampant narcissism coupled with incessant insecurity.

It seems the reason so many dislike Kanye is because he talks about what he has done, what he can do and how he wants to be (and believes he already should be) on the same historical level as people like Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson and, yes, even Jesus. Humility can often be endearing and considered a virtue, but there is something a little backwards about making sure to tell kids they can become anything they want, then telling an adult to stay within his pre-approved box. Not only should he not have ambition to explore other arenas, but Kanye’s expression and poetry is considered “less than” because of the form it takes.

This is also a common mindset in athletics for some who might consider themselves socially elite. I’ve never really understood why, say a great ballet performer or opera singer, is considered to be on a higher plane of artistry than a basketball player. It’s all a combination of natural talent, physical training and the mental aptitude to apply those skills most effectively for an engaged audience.

Yet there is still the reliable “Yeah, but it’s just sports” dismissal. While I think there is sometimes an unintentional racial element to that argument, it’s more likely that people believe sports to be far less cerebral than other forms of art. It’s all physical and not mental. Plus, athletes don’t often come across as exceptionally intelligent.

Basketball players are often brash, as are soccer, baseball, football and certainly hockey players. It makes them harder to place in the same category as someone like Beethoven or Shakespeare, but I’d argue that the very elite should, in fact, be on that same plane.

Go watch a YouTube highlight video of Allen Iverson and see the instinctive use of geometry to cut off passing lanes, compromise defenders and finish shots from various angles. He may not have studied the teachings of Euclid (neither have I – thanks, Wikipedia), but the thousands of hours he learned about inertia and vectors while on the basketball court gave him a grasp on force and physics that few could equal. Or watch a compilation of Jamal Crawford, who has one of the best handles in the NBA, to see his court recognition and the milliseconds he has to adjust his decisions and his movements. There are necessary mental elements, which can become instinctive. It’s not just pure athleticism because if it were, every decathlete could play in the NBA. That’s like saying anyone with a pen could be Shakespeare, or everyone who can read music could be Beethoven.

Go watch a quarterback drop a pass into a two square-foot window where only his receiver can get it, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I5EKWEX8XY), or stand in a batter’s box facing a 90 mile-per-hour pitch and connect with it squarely using a thin wooden bat  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeqxGpbCy4Q). Accomplish those feats and tell me that the best athletes don’t have brain function on par with other geniuses.

It would be pretty cool if these dominant schools of thought could be changed. As Kanye would say: “Pop a wheelie on the Zeitgeist.”

• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to dsimon@thegardenisland.com. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI

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