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Why We Now Prefer Chess to Politics or Football

Way back when the presidential debate schedule was first announced the Republican nominee objected that this coming Sunday’s clash would be airing at the same time as a National Football League contest. It wasn’t clear if he was worried the game might draw viewers from the debate, or vice versa, but in either case we go into the weekend with the first debate setting viewership records and the second expected to do the same while the NFL is in a steep ratings decline.
There’s no accounting for taste, as the saying goes, but we figure the best explanation for the presidential debates’ ratings bonanza is that they feature more boo-able villains and seem likely to produce more memorable body slams than can be found in a typical pro football contest. The most common explanation for the NFL’s rating slide, on the other hand, is that the contests have become too political. If you haven’t been following the professional gridiron news the big story this season is that a backup quarterback on a 1-and-4 San Francisco ’49ers squad has been taking a knee rather standing during the pre-game national anthems in support of the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement against America’s police, which involves a even more complicated and consequential question than those nickel defenses and spread offenses and other matters that football fans prefer to argue about.
Black lives do matter, of course, but so do the lives of black and white and every other color of police officers who are charged with protecting those lives, and each of those too-often times a police officer of any race takes a black life requires a detailed consideration of the circumstances, and that’s exactly the sort of the thing one tunes into a football game in hopes of getting away from. Although we’re more prone to look at the specific circumstances than is the Black Lives Matter movement, and certainly more so than that second-string quarterback on that losing ’49ers squad, we’ll nonetheless credit the NFL with allowing him his First Amendment right to take a knee. The league wasn’t so generous as to allow the Dallas Cowboys to express their sympathy to the five Dallas police officers who were gunned down during a “Black Lives Matter” protest, however, and we can well understand why significant number of football fans might be disgruntled.
We gave up on professional football a couple of seasons ago when we sat through an interminable 20 minutes or so of commercials and official videotape reviews and other inexplicable delays on an ultimately inconsequential play in a game that the our Kansas City Chiefs wound up losing during another desultory season, and since then almost the entirety of sports has seemed unsatisfying. Both the Oklahoma Sooners and the Kansas State Wildcats are by now out of the running in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship football race, and our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers are heading into an uncertain basketball season without a couple of promising pro prospects and an all-time great role player, and the NCAA is boycotting the state of North Carolina for insisting that men use the men’s rooms and women use the women’s rooms, which also takes a lot of the fun out of collegiate sports.
On our way to a late-night meeting with some friends at a local bar Thursday evening we heard a thunderstorm-delayed radio broadcast report that the Wichita Heights Falcons had outlasted bitter Catholic-school rivals Kapaun-Mt.Carmel High to go 6-and-0 in the City League, which is about thrice the number of victories it had during the three years when we were attending that oh-so-public school, but even our enthusiasm for high school sports is diminished by the news about the national anthem protests that are now occurring at that level. Upon our return home we sought some solace in a game of internet chess, where we noticed even that pristine game once again once again involved politics, but at least we were able to be down with the cause.
In case you haven’t been keeping up with high-level chess, as most people haven’t, the championship-contending Georgian-born but naturalized-American female grandmaster Nazi Paikidze is boycotting the women’s world championship because it is being held in Iran, where the Islamic theocracy is insisting on women wearing the hijab as a symbol of their subjugation to men. Despite her unfortunate first name, we’re entirely in agreement with her stand.
Given the peculiar nature of American politics at the moment, we’ll also go right ahead and note that Paikidze also demolishes other stereotypes of chess by being something of a cutie, as are many of of the other top women chess players of the moment, and that reigning world champion Magnus Carlson is something of a pretty boy. Our guess is that Azerbajaini-born and now-American former world champion Garry Kasparov would still be on top of the game if he hadn’t retired to purse a position as anti-Russian political spokesman, and recently as an opponent to the Republican nominee’s pro-Putin stance, and although it’s all as complicated as the “Black Lives Matter” movement or the board of a grandmasters’ chess game we find ourselves rooting more the chess players.
Those damned presidential politics will probably have more effect on our lives, but at least in the meantime we can root for the chess players, and hope that the ‘Shockers will have another great basketball season.

— Bud Norman

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