NFL or American Idol: which is worse?

Some of my fondest memories from childhood involve the television, which is an embarrassing truth. A lot of it was late night TV, things like “Stargate SG-1” and reruns of “Dharma and Greg” — that sort of junk.

But I also grew up a baseball hound: playing it, watching it, analyzing it, being pretty good at it for a while and then not-so-good at it for an even longer period of time before throwing out the dip and throwing in the towel.


It was during those years — approximately ages six to 17 — that the majority of my televised baseball consumption took place, often staying up long past a proper bedtime to watch the end of a postseason game (that’s especially true for the 2004 ALCS, which was so awesome it’s being written about eight years later).

And then somewhere along the way my priorities changed. No longer were sports a worthy form of entertainment and, eventually, I came to look at the entire industry of athletics as a vast misplacement of resources, talent, attention and passion.

It’s a valid opinion, and one that I still agree with to a great extent. There’s no reason that (now Broncos quarterback) Peyton Manning deserved to earn $42 million between June 2011 and June 2012; a period during which he didn’t play a single game.

Our culture is obsessed with athletics and, according to the North American Association of Sports Economists, has created a $70 billion industry out of it.

Something deep inside me (Taco Bell?) believes that to be wrong, but there are a number of good arguments in support of athletics: they teach discipline, teamwork skills, determination, build self-esteem and promote overall health.

And while I’ve always thought these arguments insufficient to warrant the attention that professional sports receives, I had a revelation recently, and part of it was recognizing another benefit of our athletics-obsessed culture.

Almost every other piece of television programming is more brainless, heartless, disingenuous and more absurd than athletic events — often by a wide margin.

Witless shows such as “The Voice,” “American Idol,” “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “Two and a Half Men” and “Pregnant in Heels,” (which is easily the worst show to ever land on TV), are some of the notable titles competing with Monday Night Football, Sunday Night Baseball, the World Series and the NBA.

Given those choices, I’m always going to choose sports, and it’s for a few reasons.

To begin with, a sporting event can be TiVoed (or DVRed, whatever is the current technology), but watching a rerun of the previous night’s big game will never feel the same as watching it live. There’s a social aspect to sports, being in the moment and truly unpredictable, that will always elude other programming no matter how “real” shows such as “The Real World” try to be. And reality shows are often as heavily scripted as a baptism, but that’s not really a secret.


Sports are intellectually more challenging for the viewer than most prime time programming, which is as equally sad as it is true. Most of what’s on the boob tube doesn’t challenge the viewer intellectually, but that’s not the case with sports; in order to watch a game, you first have to understand it. That can be quite the undertaking with the rules governing professional sports being as confusing and layered as they are.

So while I still believe that Manning shouldn’t make $42 million  for not playing football, I’ve come to realize that when he does play, his contribution to our lives is vastly more significant than Snooky’s.