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Commentary: Anyone wanna watch the game?

Sports. It seems that sports are about either propelling an object, often spherical, from one place to another, or propelling your own body from one place to another, sometimes facilitated by objects that let you do it faster than you could otherwise.

Just to sweeten the pot, in some sports there are other people who try to impede your progress while attempting to do the same job of propelling the same object (tennis, football, basketball, volleyball). And in others, they just try to do a better job of propelling their own object (golf, archery) or of propelling themselves (running, swimming) without trying to impede you or yours.

That includes Western New York boaters who (propelling themselves from one place to another using another object to do it faster than they could do it themselves) flock to Lake Erie or the myriad smaller inland lakes, and skiers (propelling themselves from one place to another) who choose one environment (water) or another (snow), depending on the season.

The world is filled with sports fans (note, etymology: may be short for fanatics), and Buffalo is a big sports town. The thing is, metaphors common to sports spill over into other arenas, and if sports are viewed as a kind of war-- or if war is viewed as a kind of sport-- those metaphors spill over into each other.

Academic and historian Jamel Ostwald ends his blog post, “That old sports as war metaphor,” with a balanced view: “In short, idealized views of how to play sports – what’s fair, what’s honorable, the balance between winning and winning well – can also tell us something about how societies view their idealized way of war.”

It’s not that I don’t like sports. I was a pretty good tennis player, propelling the same spherical object that other people were trying to propel while they tried to impede my progress. But the choice of language about just about everything matters because words anchor and provide unconscious comparisons, propelling as yet unformed notions into another sphere—thought, memory, and replication.

Communication isn't a horse of a different color. Guru Marshall McLuhan theorized that it is an extension of human beings. But that doesn’t mean that in that extension there won’t be tension. The thing is, the biology of history also points out that, along with the well-known “survival of the fittest,” cooperation between coexisting, differing groups is necessary for their mutual survival.

Maybe a foray into games language could be a check on runaway metaphors of the "push-em-back, push-em-back, waaay-back" kind. The Buffalo News carried a story today about the 25th National Scrabble Championships that took place this week at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Eleven countries were represented in the 525 players. According to the rules, everyone played all 31 games, and the winner was decided by tallying points.

Although players tried to keep their opponents from scoring well while promoting their own progress, chances are good, I suspect, that no one threw any kind of missile at each other or swept their letters off the board.

Linda Chalmer Zemel teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College. She also writes the Buffalo Books column.

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