Over the years, we have expanded the category of what we classify as sports. The traditional lineup of football, basketball, baseball, etc. has been joined by cheerleading, snowboarding, beach volleyball and – more than likely – flag football.
Regardless of whatever reservations one might have about a “sport” that sometimes involves chanting and forming a human pyramid, it’s clear that all of them require some level of physical exercise and effort.
But the newest “sport” generally calls for none of that and has created a growing controversy over alleged mental damage comparable to concussion injuries from football.
Collectively, the term is “esports” (or e-sports) which boils down to playing electronic games as teams and competing against squads from other colleges and high schools, and there are even professional “cybersports” leagues and tournaments, all of which are played sitting down (perhaps supplemented by a six-pack of Red Bull).
There are several controversies swirling around esports. Male-dominated, there have been accusations of sexual harassment and misogyny. Long sessions sitting and staring at a screen can lead to back problems, eye strain, joint pain and general declines in physical fitness and increases in psychological strain.
Setting aside the issue of competitive esports, prolonged viewing of a computer screen among youngsters can introduce issues of cyberbullying, a lack of socialization skills, addiction, distraction from studying, and more.
Now, some of these concerns are echoes of complaints made about television in the Fifties and Sixties that now appear to have been overblown. But back then the TV was typically limited to one set per home and kids could not monopolize the tube. A typical middle class home today has at least one – probably more – desktop personal computer and numerous iPads, smartphones, etc.
It should be remembered that virtually all sports carry a downside. Contact sports lead to concussions and broken bones. Speed sports can mean pulled muscles and foot and leg injuries. Flag football won’t have tackling or blocking, but you can bet it will have its fair share of “incidental” collisions and hard landings.
Esports do not involve any of that, but neither does chess, considered the premium cerebral contest. I suppose if chess had as many fervent all-night players in teen years as “Call of Duty” or “Overwatch,” there might be similar concerns about that “sport.”
Probably the march of electronic team contests is inevitable and that high schools will bow to the inevitable. It’s sort of ironic that so much of the controversy swirls around making a high school student use his or her mind too much.
Jim Tortolano has been known to play “Civilization” until the wee hours, subsisting on Cheez-Its and Mountain Dew.
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