Watching the Summer Olympics recently, two things occurred to me. First, somewhere on planet Earth there are people who take badminton seriously. Second, I spent a lot of time watching Olympic events that weren’t actually events: awarding medals, raising flags, analysis, and interviews. Plus, there’s always an obligatory video montage of the athlete-of-the-night’s heroic story and hardscrabble fight to become the best and his/her incredibly obscure sport giving hope to his/her hometown (recently emerged from the grip of war or pestilence or telemarketers), which has made him a local hero of Springsteen proportions.
The Big Show
Still, I didn’t Tivo-hop over all the regalia surrounding the Olympics. The Summer Olympics without podiums and medals, national anthems, and the opening ceremonies would amount little more than Labor Day yard games with better-looking people. Stay tuned for the Men’s Lawn Jarts final. Can grandpa defend his title?
The Olympics isn’t the only time that sport is more than sport. All sports garnish the physical and mental contests with pageantry to heighten the entertainment of a great event (or distract from an awful dumpster fire of a game). The seventh inning stretch. The tee-shirt cannon. The Jumbotron. Mascots and mayhem, marching bands and the wave.
The most important accoutrements to sports, however, might be the words we use to describe them. Without talking about sports, we would lose roughly 1/3 of local news broadcasts. We would only read a newspaper for Dilbert and snarky Letters to the Editor. On the bright side, we wouldn’t have fantasy football. Still, Reggie Miller’s playoff exploits against the Knicks without Slick Leonard’s “Boom Baby!” would be downright two-dimensional.
In boxing, Ali-Frazier is considered the greatest fight ever by many. But how would it be remembered without its nickname: “The Thrilla in Manila,”? For that matter, it’s hard to imagine Ali’s career without his own boastful phrases or the staccato cadence of Howard Cosell journaling his exploits. Words shape the build up to these events and our perception of them for years to follow.
A Domestic Spat
Alas, however inseparable words are to our sporting pastimes, words in the law remain distinct from actions. On August 29, 2016, the Indiana Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Michael Day v. State of Indiana. After a dispute with his wife, screaming, threats, and four 911 calls, police arrested Day and charged him with disorderly conduct. In Indiana disorderly conduct occurs when a person:
[R]ecklessly, knowingly, or intentionally: (1) engages in fighting or in tumultuous conduct; (2) makes unreasonable noise and continues to do so after being asked to stop; or (3) disrupts a lawful assembly of persons . . .
On appeal, Day argued that the word “fighting” was ambiguous, and could mean either physical fighting or simply verbal arguing, and the ambiguity should result in a narrow interpretation. The Court ultimately agreed, holding that where the State charges a defendant with disorderly conduct for fighting, it must prove that a physical altercation occurred, not a mere verbal exchange. Fortunately for the prosecution–though not so fortunately for Mrs. Day–during their argument, Mr. Day spat in her face. I guess because he’s eight or something.
The Supreme Court said this was enough to make the fighting physical in nature: “Even under our narrow interpretation of ‘fighting,’ Day’s intentional, point-blank spitting on [his wife] constitutes sufficient evidence to support his conviction.”
So, if you’re keeping score at home:
1. Learn from Mr. Michael Day of Franklin County. Always keep your disagreements limited to constructive, gentile criticism such as “You #$%: @&%*! You will sign these papers for the house,” or “You #$%: @&%*! I ought to kill you,” played out within earshot of your young children. Just don’t spit on anybody and you should be fine.
2. Seriously, not even precious metals and the Star-Spangled Banner will make Americans care about badminton.