As I write this, the Kansas City Royals are one win away from being in the World Series. I don't blame anyone for being excited. Twenty-nine years ago, I went to the parade when the Royals won the Series. Kansas City has had a long, rough road to get to this point again.
But I'm not watching the games, and I don't much care if they win or lose. Please don't hate me for this. Listen.
In high school, I noticed that anyone could name at least one artist (including playwrights) who lived hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago. No one knew a single athlete. This told me that art, in its many forms, has more of an impact on society, and history, than sports.
In college, I realized that the institution funneled a lot of money to the sports teams, and not much to the theatre department. But when they needed something from the public, who would they hit up? Theatre department alumni who are now famous movie and television stars.
Recently, I watched a mom and her young son waiting to pick up her daughter from dance lessons. The boy looked in the window of the studio, and his eyes went wide. He turned to his mother and said excitedly, "Boys!" I said, "Of course! There are lots of boy dancers!" His mother then quietly explained to me, "His dad told him boys don't dance. Boys play ball." My face fell. Hers was already there. We shared the same sad thoughts. I turned to the boy and said, "Well, there are lots and lots of boy dancers. Some are very famous. Look at those boys there. Aren't they doing a great job? Doesn't that look like fun?" He responded by trying to imitate what he saw them do.
Then, last night, a couple of things happened that really got to me.
I went to my niece's first high school symphony orchestra concert. She was in the regular school orchestra last year, but really wanted to be in the elite symphony orchestra, for which she had to audition. Of course, the family is all very proud of her, and it was on our calendars long before the Royals made the play-offs.
The concert was to start at 7:00. The Royals' game started at 7:05.
The orchestra director came out and informed the audience that she wasn't going to talk as much as she usually does during concerts (really, though, she doesn't talk that much), because she put everything she was going to say in the program, to save time, so "we can all get home and watch some baseball."
I'm sure there were family members of young musicians who appreciated that. But what message did it give the students, dressed in their formal orchestra attire, and tuning their instruments?
The high school orchestra played their three-song set. They were off the stage by 7:11. I checked.
The only things left in the program were the three pieces by the symphony orchestra. I thought, Dang, we're going to be out of here by 7:30. Not quite. Because they needed to stall for time before starting, the director said. We saw why several minutes later, as an athletic-attired young man rushed in, walked in front of the other students, who were wearing their tuxedos and black formal gowns, already tuned and warmed-up, and sat down in front of the conductor. He was the first-chair cellist, and the school soccer game he was playing in just ended, so he rushed over to the concert. He picked up his cello, which had been tuned for him. Now they could start playing.
When they were finished with the three pieces, they stood, we applauded, and the director thanked the audience for being there, then dismissed us quickly: "Go, Royals!" The music portion of the evening had lasted approximately 25 minutes. I heard that pieces were cut from the program at the last minute. I don't know the official reason, but from the look of things, I have a hunch.
There is usually a reception after these concerts. Cookies and punch. You know. To celebrate the young musicians and their hard work. It was conspicuously absent last night. I heard students saying they thought it was so people wouldn't hang around and keep others from getting home to watch the game.
So this is the message this group of young musicians got last night: Music is not as important as sports. You and your work as an artist are not as important as an athletic event. If you enjoying playing sports and music, we are happy to stop the concert, to keep the audience and the rest of the orchestra waiting for your arrival, because your soccer game is more important than your concert. You are more important than the rest of the people onstage with you, because you play sports.
I would never say that sports are not valuable. They absolutely are. They teach teamwork, dedication, ambition, strategy, hard work, and taking pride in what your body can do. These are wonderful things. (By the way, the arts teach these things too, albeit in very different ways.)
I also am not saying that, if a kid likes sports and the arts, she should have to choose between them. No way. (Although, now and then, when a conflict arises, a choice must be made.)
Nor am I saying it's wrong to be excited about your hometown team being in the play-offs. Of course not.
I am saying that our society consistently makes sports more important than the arts. Athletes are more important than musicians, than dancers, than actors, than designers, directors, painters, writers, sculptors... And we are telling our kids that.
And they are listening.
ADDENDUM, 10-16-14: I've gotten some feedback from people who apparently think I'm slamming sports and/or athletes and/or sports fans. That was not my intention at all. I tried to communicate this in the post, but I guess I wasn't clear.
Sports are great. They are valuable. They are entertaining, and people who play can learn a lot about themselves, and working with others. I have nothing against sports or those who play/support them. Even I'm kind of excited that the Royals are going to the World Series, because that is a super-cool achievement.
My concern is that sports are often emphasized by the general population to such an extreme point that the arts, and especially kids who are interested in expressing themselves artistically, are repeatedly given the message that they don't matter, because they are not as important or, at least, not as cool. Our children suffer for this notion, and that's what I was trying to explain here.
I hope I've cleared up some misunderstandings.