The story begins and ends with a spontaneous operatic outcry of the NFL Network’s song.

I’m driving back from Milwaukee on a Sunday morning, half-conscious, my foot sporadically smacking against the gas peddle. I’m en route to drop off my roommate at work in Madison by 8:30 a.m. The car is deathly silent, sans the gurgling cries from my stomach. Suddenly, in immaculate fashion, I begin to shout the NFL Network’s glorious hymn of Sunday football, imagining myself among a chorus of religious disciples. I envision myself preaching the good gospel of American football on the foot of Wisconsin’s capitol building.

I’m actually just yelling an NFL jingle at a steering wheel.

I have a flashback to a Republican presidential debate. Each candidate is attempting to outperform one another in lip-syncing abilities as they passionately mouth the national anthem. I’ve cracked open a beer, waiting for the first mention of “Reagan” to take the first sip. It comes within the first two minutes. I’m browsing through the online presidential betting odds, watching them fluctuate as Donald Trump efficiently insults an entire nationality in a single sentence. As the candidates provide analysis, counterpoints, and their opinions about the state of daily fantasy, I’m once again humming NFL Network’s ode to football.

A flicker of knowledge suddenly appears in my mind, a true epiphany. I realize that I watch sports for the same reason that I tune into political debates: I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush of watching extreme competition. Any competition.

Politics are the new sports.

For the past year, I’ve written articles heavily influenced by the style of ESPN’s subsidiary, which focuses on insight-driven data journalism. Naturally, my articles are often pretty f***ing boring. They lack the fire and overreaching claims of a passionate editorial. This essay is my variation of a eulogy to the now deceased counterpart of fivethirtyeight, Grantland, which acted as the artistic balance to fivethirtyeight’s scientific method. Instead of focusing on it’s slow, painful death, I’ll focus on the life it lived, as a professional journalistic juggler of sports and cultural commentary.

Thus, instead of proving a hypothesis, I’m going to paint you a picture. I’ll start off with a very straightforward claim: Red and blue will turn into the new purple, which is the new Orange is the New Black.

Gibberish? Yes, that’s the point. It’s my Buzzfeed-esque way of proving that my opinion is, and has always been, a literal fact. Such as my opinion/the eternal truism that politics is the fifth of America’s beloved sports.

Yes, I may sweep the differences under the rug, such as politics’ fundamental lack of racial diversity, whereas the sports’ world struggles with a lack of diversity among sexual orientations. But the point of an editorial is to passionately defend your opinion as though it were representation of truth itself.

So how do I prove the fact that politics is just another form of sport? With carefully selected examples that only prove the point I’m trying to make.

The campaign trail is to America’s political process as the FIFA World Cup is to the sports world: It’s once every four years, defines the height of competition, has, like, tons of really hot guys (Chris Christie > Ronaldo), and is riddled with corruption. Here’s where the truth gets a bit wonky: Depending on who you ask, Sepp Blatter is either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

I’m going to argue that he’s both.

The metaphor follows like this: Blatter, the embattled ex-president and Sith Lord of FIFA is beloved by Russian President Vladimir Putin. So what’s the logic behind Darth Vladimir’s support of FIFA? It comes down to a truism that I’ve relentlessly touched upon in past articles: we’re all biased to the point that we’re too biased to even acknowledge how biased we are.

We should understand that in most arguments, the facts that you bring up in debate usually are the result of your subjective perspective: Russia got their 2018 World Cup, so naturally, they support and applaud FIFA’s humanitarian efforts. It’s a prime example of confirmation bias. Just bring up the facts that support your claim, and throw away the rest. Sports are politics, because I’ve brought up like five examples.

The same occurs when we come to support political candidates: If you’re a businesswoman who’s creating jobs, you might be extremely frustrated with the Democratic party’s policies that increase taxes on your small business. Clinton’s proposed policies would directly detriment your economic well-being. In your mind, you focus on the economically proven fact that Hillary Clinton’s proposed tax plan will continue to stymie the economic growth that rewards innovation, and thus, America’s entire middle and lower class will suffer.

Or, perhaps you’re an employee working for the businesswoman described above, and are a direct beneficiary of the Affordable Health Care Act. Democratic policies directly benefit your economic well-being, so naturally, you focus on the fact that these programs help millions of hard working Americans receive healthcare, which in turn will directly benefit the majority of the middle and working class.

In summary: you focus on the facts that support your desired outcome. Again, it’s a matter of confirmation bias, which occurs when you only highlight the facts that support your hypothesis. This is, for instance, why English and Italian fans lost hoards of money while betting on the 2015 World Cup.

Returning to the American vs. Russian perspective of FIFA, the U.S didn’t receive a bid for the 2022 World Cup, so naturally, they did some digging into the perceived corruption. Russia, on the other hand, directly benefited from FIFA’s policies, so they naturally championed FIFA’s efforts in building soccer facilities in underdeveloped communities. Putin even went as far as declaring that Blatter deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because of their socially beneficial programs.

I’m not coming to the defense of Vladimir Putin or excusing FIFA’s corruption, but I am making a point about the nature of bias: whether it’s politics, sports, or journalism, we often overgeneralize the merits of our political party, team, or article, while belittling the counterpoints. Anyone who challenges this logical claim is an irrational fool who can’t comprehend that my opinion defines truth. This, in a nutshell, is the nature of a biased sports fan (such as myself) as well as a party-line voter.

The political moderates in America though, who understand that both parties appeal to the extremes of ideology in order to maintain their power, are equivalent to the United States in the World Cup. Those who search for the middle ground between two seemingly contradictory ideologies represent a large population, but they never win on the largest of stages. A truly moderate candidate isn’t likely to win an upcoming presidential election for the same reason that the US won’t win a World Cup: moderates and American soccer each don’t organize well, mainly because they lack a centralized method of funding. This is why I, as both a moderate and American soccer fan, get frustrated with the sport itself. All I can do is hope for a close election, just as I’d hope for a highly competitive World Cup Final.

The lack of funding is at the heart of why there’s no moderate media outlet. The vacuum of non-partisan articles only fuels bias. There’s no better example of America’s addiction to pretending that snap-subjective judgments are ethical truths than watching biased media sources pounce on each miniature sports or political scandal like a pack of wolves ravaging a fatty piece of flesh. We feast on the prey, gnawing each juicy, drama-oozing headline to the bone. But too often, we forget the lesson of these sensationalized stories. They each teach us something very special about the American public: we love recycling themes.

Tom Brady’s Deflategate, for example, is painfully reminiscent of Chris Christie’s 2013 Bridgegate. It’s as if the NFL decided to run a cheap parody of the political scandal to boost their ratings. In the bridge scandal, Chris Christie’s staff members closed lanes on the New Jersey Bridge, and ultimately Christie maneuvered around all the blame for his administration’s missteps. The same occurred with the Patriots: the NFL’s punishment ultimately rested on “The Deflator” rather than the individual who actually ran the organization. Other than their differing takes on physical health (euphemism of the year), both Tom Brady and Chris Christie dodged responsibility with the same guise and contradictory message: I’m the leader who calls all the shots, except when I’m caught cheating, because that was the one time that I wasn’t calling all the shots.

Even the titles and spectacle-infused headlines found in political reporting are mirrored in sports journalism. Every sports scandal has a “–gate” attached to the end, as an overused ode to the most intriguing and shocking scandal in the history of American politics. But why does being aware of partisan, overhyped reporting even matter? To put it very simply: Red and blue will turn into the new purple, which is the new Orange is the New Black.

The “new purple”, in a practical sense, is the fact that candidates act more moderate (they become a mix of blue and red i.e. a mix of democrat and republican) when they enter the general election.

The proof that politicians play a different ball-game in the general election time comes from a case study, and I’m not making this up, game theory. The premise: If you want to win an election, the ideal strategy is to attract the average voter, even if your party appeals to extremists. In the primaries, the optimal strategy requires leaders to attract their party cores, the red and blues respectively. In the general election though, it’s all about attracting the moderates, or those in the middle of the red and the blues: the purples.

Democrats=Blue, Republicans=Red, Moderates=Purple.

So in fact, candidates are forced to appeal to people’s bias (during the primaries), before they appeal to the rational moderates. They accomplish this by only bringing up information that proves their point, because, then, any nonsensical argument can be proven true. As I mentioned earlier: red and blue will turn into the new purple, which is the new Orange is the New Black. Here’s the exact, evidence-based proof.

This new purple, of candidates trying to vie for the moderate vote in lieu of a (much needed) moderate party, is the new Orange is the new Black because:

1) Politics are an on-demand television show fueled by cliché, yet incredibly intriguing human interest stories, and

2) It helps us understand the fundamental questions that exist in society. Which actions should cause society to strip someone of their liberty by sending them to prison? What constitutes a human life? When should a professional league ban one of their athletes for an off-field offense? When should an employer fire an employee for a non-work related offense? These are the questions that don’t require an objective answer, but help us gain a deeper understanding of our values. Fact: personal values and judgments of ethical issues are often, quite simply, borrowed opinions from people who like to pretend their opinions or beliefs are facts.

This is the only reason why the fact remains that sports and political journalism remain stable fixtures of American culture. It’s not only that sports and politics each serve up entertainment 24/7 in the form of competitive and high stakes drama, but are fueled by sensationalized headlines that categorize things into neat categories of good and bad for America, or good and bad for sports as a whole. Which brings me to my conclusion, that political and sports editorials are inherently bad.

All skewering of the media aside, the only justification for political and sports coverage comes down to a single ethical argument: at least we’re not discussing the fluctuation of Kim Kardashian’s ass. We’re discussing what it takes to embody the ideal American, whether it be athletically or mentally. So when I find myself humming the NFL Network’s theme song, or taking swigs from a cheap can of PBR every time a presidential candidate mentions “Obamacare” in the same sentence as “terrorism,” I remind myself that I’m actively participating in pop-art forms that mirrors the values of the general American public.

Or lack thereof.

I wonder where this leaves me as a fan of sports and politics. Is there a point to consuming biased media? Should we cheer for politicians like do for our favorite sports teams. Can we learn anything about our own values by reading sports and political journalism? Are the extroverted pursuits of sports and politics ever meant to cross into the realm of introspection?


Image via Washington Post