Jewish World Review June 15, 1999 /1 Tamuz 5759
We have become a nation of Bostoids. Without any pressure, except the anguish, as New York magazine tells us, of being merely slightly rich in a city full of the very rich, we show as a society the baleful effect of a total belief in the amiability of the universe. To us it is inconceivable that the stock market or real estate market could go decline, that we could sicken and die from anything other than the effects of cigarette smoking, environmentally-caused cancers and inadequate gun control.
Children suffer most from our complacency. The rich, as a letter-writer to the New York Times pointed out, used to pay good money so that their boys and girls could be taught to live in the wild, to toughen them and teach them to survive adversity. Now summer camps boast of the quality of their chefs and the softness of their beds.
Physically weak and unable to take care of themselves, our children inherit the self-satisfaction of their elders without being able to sign checks or have credit ratings or lease SUVs. They lack the opportunity to sacrifice themselves, to feel the kind of fear that used to define childhood-the realization that because you are weak you must develop the desire to become strong, the cunning to evade the bullies, the courage occasionally to stand up for your rights, the judgment to decide when it is wise to fight, and when, more frequently, it is wiser to flee.
Of all the disciplines of nature and nurture our children lack, only Little League remains. As if to compensate for everything else, kids now have to submit to adult-organized sport, with parents standing around anxiously, peering at their kids' efforts to hit or kick a ball, and, in Manhattan, either cheering or yakking into cell phones. And parents are made to feel that being a good parent requires nothing less-and nothing more-than constant, self-punishing attendance at these events.
But here, in childrens' athletics, is precisely where our remedy lies. Kids' sports takes place in public, follow recognized rules, and are intricately scheduled. Here's my thought: Bet. We open little league to legalized gambling. We develop book on t-ball and soccer. We offer odds on girls' lacrosse and boy's wrestling.
Wagering on Little League is a big idea. Opening children's games to the general sporting public would have innumerable positive effects. First of all, the individual performance of your child would not only matter to you and your child's team-mates' parents, but to a roaring crowd. The attention of a large audience would be focused on our children. What they do as individuals will begin to matter. They can become heroes, or goats-they will cease to live in a private world defined by doting parents, but in the larger world of commerce.
Betting on kids' sports would develop in our children higher moral standards, even nobility. We expect our kids to be innocent, but now they would have to be seen to be innocent. The entire community-not just we parents-would have a stake in our kids living drug- and cigarette-free lives, lives untainted by bribery and corruption. To stand up against these temptations will seem to them heroic-not just stupid.
Finally, there is the equalizing magic of odds-making. Because our children would not be playing merely to beat the other team. No, that would be childish indeed, and unfairly favors the talented over the untalented. No, they will be handicapped. Their individual strengths and weaknesses would be assessed by a knowledgeable market. And they would be playing not, ignobly, to win, to "smash" the other guys, but to beat the spread. It's not whether you win or lose or how you play the game.
By allowing betting on little league, we can make life matter again for our
kids. Their actions will have consequences. Their fortunes-in the form of
the published odds-will rise and fall according to their pluck, or
resignation. And parents, seeing their happy children applauded by cheerful,
slightly boozy, working-class crowds, might sneak off to do more useful work,
like after-hours stock market trading or conducting cinq-a-septs with one
another--both activities likely to reduce the general sense of complacency
that so besets us as a
JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.
06/08/99: Suddenly Samuel Berger