The NYT's George Vecsey is back from China and makes a point -- that the Olympics are summer filler and it's so much more invigorating to talk about playoff baseball and even tennis and preseason football -- than it is to behold what is supposed to be the greatest spectacle in sports. Vecsey -- and others who have written along these lines before -- implies that the difference comes from the intensity or higher stakes of pro sports as opposed to the relatively low key exhibition-like quality of the Olympics. That, according to his headline at least, the professional sports are the games "which truly count." That we feel far more invested in them as opposed to the relatively meaningless Olympics and therefore care about them more.
I agree with the premise that baseball and football are more engaging than what just went on in Beijing, but I think it's for the opposite reason. If anything, I think we're expected to take the Olympics too seriously and treat it with thoughtfulness and regard, whereas with good old domestic professional sports, we can whine and complain and be petty and it doesn't really matter.
For all of the books and columns which have been written to the contrary, we're not really interested in finding meaning or poignancy in sports. We're merely looking for a diversion, and if it's a diversion in which we can harmlessly revel in some of our less admirable instincts -- say, calling the third baseman a bum or lamenting the fact that the alma mater only beat the cupcake by 43 points instead of 50 -- all the better. Contrary to Vecsey's headline, we like football or baseball or EPL soccer or whatever because, in the grand scheme of things, they don't really count, and on some level we all know that.