A sacred bond once existed between tobacco and sports.
Golf and long, mild cigars.
Baseball and chew.
Bowling and cigarettes.
Hunting and Pipes.
The victory smoke.
Not to mention billiards, darts, and those other venerable bar sports which were often completed through a haze of tobacco smoke. Not to mention the long-standing tradition of spectator smoking at Polo, Cricket, Horse-racing, Croquet, and those other vaguely European sports that most Americans consider mere pastimes.
The downturn of this bond is not just indicative of the modern hatred of tobacco, but the modern attitude towards sports. The mere fact that we refer to physical games as ‘sports’ rather than ‘sport’ means a lot; we refer to a collection of commercialized, industrialized, televised games that provide diversion to millions, rather than the original meaning of the word, which means, simply, “play.” To say “sports” refers to our inactivity, our detachment from the games rather than opening up the possibility for our possible real interaction, our sport.
To say Babe Ruth was an avid smoker would be an understatement. The concept of a top-class sportsman (athlete?) smoking seems unbelievable to us. The modern athlete (no longer a sportsman) is a human machine, a compendium of exercise routines, protein shakes, and expensive, high-tech gear which, in my opinion, takes all of the ‘sport’–the ‘play’–out of sports, along with the fun. It’s not a game; it’s a business, and woe betide the athlete who jeopardizes his or her all-important bodily health (which is owned by investors) by ingesting tobacco (alcohol and performance drugs seem to be less of a problem).
Sport used to be beautiful–the courts and the fields were kept pristine, not to maximize “performance”, but to exist as part of the beautiful world in which leisure time to play games was prized as what it is–a great gift.
Tobacco smokers inherently understand the difference between leisure and relaxing. Why else would a cigar smoker spend a large amount of money on a beautiful lighter? Why would one opt for the most beautiful pipe? What need is there for a cigarette case? What need is there for tobacco in the first place? None at all–it is a great gift, a way of enhancing a beautiful moment in our hours of leisure.
I miss wooden tennis rackets and golf clubs, leather football pads, and balls made with actual pigskin. I miss going to a baseball game or a rodeo and not being bombarded with advertising. I miss these things because they gave an actual measure of what a person could do with the body they were given, not a measure of what a body could do if augmented and stretched to its limits with millions of dollars, and gave the indication that watching a game was a break from the economic hustle-and-bustle of mankind.
Tomorrow, on the superbowl, as you enjoy your beautiful cigar from The Briar Shoppe, or perhaps a long bowl of pipe tobacco, or even a nice chaw as you barbecue, I challenge you to shut your eyes to advertising and ‘stats.’ Put your T.V. on mute to shut out the inane comments of the sports anchor. Focus instead on the beauty of the game, on the great triumph of human time spent doing economically useless but endlessly meaningful games, and on the blue and grey smoke that symbolizes the greatest gift of civilization–leisure.