In my last column, I suggested that boxing opens a window into the essence of all sports. This is no more true than in the area of violence. Boxing is unique, and discomforting to many (including me), precisely because it displays this element of sport in the raw.

Football or hockey are hardly the only sports in which overwhelming the opponent physically and/or psychologically is very much integral to the game, either explicitly or implicitly—that is, in the language used to understand and frame the action. George Carlin has a comedy routine in which he contrasts the violent language used to describe football (the quarterback throws a bomb, the linebacker blitzes) and baseball (the batter bunts and the runner just tries to get home.) But baseball too has its share of violent metaphors. Pitchers overpower batters. Runners steal a base. Batters smash a line drive. And do not tell a catcher waiting for a throw at the plate with a batter barreling down on him that baseball is a non-contact sport.

Basketball was originally designed to be a purely non-contact sport. But today under the boards, it is one of the most physically brutal of contests, as giants in height and weight and muscle shove and elbow each other to own the little piece of real estate known as the key. Even the dunk—also called a jam—is mostly about the fierce display of one's physical superiority.

It's no different with the seemingly pastoral game of golf. Every golfer says he wants to crush his drives, nail his irons, and drain his putts. Tiger Woods is known for trying to intimidate opponents, hoping to unnerve them with his demeanor on the course. And the clenched fist and pumping arm and furious "Yes!" have become the ubiquitous ritual of victory ...

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Play Ball
From 2005 to 2007, "Play Ball" examined the relationship of sports and faith: sports is important precisely because it is a form of play, that is, a manifestation of the Sabbath. Contributors included Mark Galli, Collin Hansen, Mark Moring, and others.
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