Poppy, opiate of a gardener.
Poppy, opiate of a gardener.

Karl Marx once wrote that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” If he were alive today I think he might be tempted to alter that assessment.

Here and now, as I find myself caught up in the enthusiasm for World Cup, Wimbledon, and baseball, it seems to me that an argument could be made that sports are the modern opiate of the masses.

It’s understandable. As the world we live in grows increasingly complex, its problems more critical, its resources more threatened, its human population more recklessly contentious, sports offer an escape from the conflicts of the real world. How much easier to simply concentrate on a game. And if you need a frisson of conflict to add savor to your sports, you can always indulge in the ever-popular critiquing of the players, or questioning the line calls, or finding fault with the umpire’s decisions.

While the bludgeoning continues in the world outside, in the ballpark, on the playing fields, on the green lawns of Wimbledon, a level of decorum, balance and harmony prevails.

I’m no expert on politics or sports. But I have played a game or two, and I know how hard it is to keep your eye on the ball. That’s really the secret to most sports, and to much of life as well. Distractions multiply. Some think only the young are prone to distraction. But the older you get, the more vulnerable you become, as memory banks overflow with associations and emotions. You never know when some stray sight will trigger a cascade of memory that will utterly floor you.

The trick is to stay alert, stay nimble, and keep your eye on the ball. Even when it’s not a ball.