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“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

Jackie Robinson

Jean-Marie Brohm, a French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher, once said that sports spectating is a prison of measured time. Anyone know what that means?

I’m okay with sports. I really am – I’ve had two concussions, and a broken elbow, arm and wrist to prove it. I skateboarded like some kind of four wheeled madman late into my teens, and played hockey for about five and soccer for three years. I even made assistant captain for my hockey team and spent very little time in the penalty box. I scored winning goals, navigated the field with kid-like fervour, and ease and wore magazines in my socks as shin pads.

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I also like to win. I understand the competitive spirit. I think good values can and are often tacitly passed on from coaches to captains, from team members to fans, from parents to children. I’m looking forward to tossing a baseball around with my son Spencer in the near future. The old game of 500 up is not too far away for the Peck family.

Sports. I get the desire. I understand the fascination. I can appreciate the obsessive attraction.

46, 105 people can sit and watch baseball on any given Sunday at the SkyDome here in Toronto.Apparently that doesn’t include luxury seats. According to answerbag.com, the average length of a baseball game is 2 hours and 47 minutes. So combined that’s just under 138,315 hours spent watching one baseball game here in the Big Smoke.

Right. I forgot about those watching the game on TV. In the US the annual game schedule runs at about 162. From 2000 to 2009 735.5 million people watched baseball in the US. That’s 2 billion people, 205 million hours of human capital invested in watching a game during those nine years, assuming all spectators watched only one game in those nine years. I doubt that’s true or even possible knowing what I know of the human psyche. When you start to do the math the numbers are astounding. And yes, please remember that’s one sport. What about hockey, football, basketball, Nascar, soccer, golf, tennis and fishing, to name a few mainstream sports?

Russ Grimm said he would run over his mother to win the Super Bowl. Funny. Macabre. And yet, dare I say, deeply tragic on some level.

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All of this spectatorship adds up to lost opportunity. Undeveloped human capital. It’s the antithesis of capacity building. As someone who works in the field of international development, who sees issues of genuine human concern the world over, I often wonder what we could do if we invested all this time. I want to say it’s wasted. I want to say it’s irresponsible on some level to abuse the privilege we all have. I won’t. I wonder though.

What about water related problems? What about treatable and preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhoea? Maybe we could eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Yes, we all have a right to play. Agreed. But what of your brothers and sisters around the world whose lives are defined by subsistence living? What kind of rights do they have?

Caring for the human race is not just about trying to solve daunting global issues. Where does the environment fit in? How can we give back in some small way? Helping others might include a baseball, soccer ball or maybe even a golf ball, but my guess is we might want to reconsider where we invest out efforts if we truly want to make a difference in this world. A prison of measured time suggests we may not get out. The metaphor stands. Are we on parole or merely keeping the bench or our couches well worn and warm?

The problem is we think we have time.