Rugby League Week #23: The value of trivial pursuits

How do you feel about your line of work? Do you enjoy your job? Do you see it as a calling, important in the grand scheme of things?

Do you take pride in what you achieve, the good days far outweighing the bad? Do you have a sense that you are useful to society?

Well, if so, then you are lucky indeed. Good on you.

This is very much a ‘First World Problem’, I know, but increasingly I am coming around to the opinion that my main line of work, sports journalism – a branch of the industry to which rugby league does belong, despite the national media’s best efforts – is a bit of a pointless exercise.

And not only that, but rather silly too.

I saw Dawn French having a similar crisis of confidence on the telly once, while discussing the value of being a comedian. I now know just what she means.

Twitter has a lot to answer for in our modern era, not least the dispiriting confirmation that there are at least several million nutcases on the loose. I expect Facebook does similar, though I don’t have an account so can’t comment on that.

Lately, I’ve stopped looking at Twitter unless I actually want to be irritated – BBC Question Time fulfils a similar function. If you value peace of mind it’s best not to bother. Have a cup of tea. Read a book. Go for a stroll.

It’s true that there are a lot of amusing people on social media. Those who realise that it is supposed to be about entertainment mainly, though of course it also has the capacity to gather lots of people to noble and charitable causes.

The flip side is that it also encourages playground bullies and those who’d hold their coat, urging them on as some other poor sap who had a thought and was brave enough to voice it is savaged by the outraged mob. A mob driven to frenzy by the expression of a view or scenario which – horror of horrors! – has offended their finely-tuned sense of self.

Who with any sense would want to engage in such behaviour?

So with that in mind, I suppose it’s understandable that sane people begin to hold their tongues, stay on the sidelines, avoid any chance of confrontation.

But then, for the rest of us, that can have a demoralising effect on your timeline, especially when it’s full of friends and colleagues who tweet about a) sport; b) sport and, on a particularly interesting day, c) sport.

This is fine, of course, if you like sport. And I do like sport. I like sport very much. Sport is groovy. So whoop-de-doo for that.

But it does all start to make me uneasy when reports from the real world – you know, the one in which there are terrorist atrocities, welfare cuts, global political earthquakes, actual earthquakes et al – are so constantly intruded upon by trivial updates regarding bats, racquets and loads of old balls.

A glance at my current timeline reveals that sprinkled liberally among the outbursts re austerity protests and reports of police on horseback facing people in wheelchairs are an array of eager beavers ‘revealing’ that Pat Richards is returning to Super League with Catalans Dragons, Northern Territories (sorry, no, Queensland) have won State of Origin and Cardiff is an unfit venue for Ashes Tests. Oh and Andy Murray has just done another of those dinky little fists of his.

But then, it’s at times like this, with so much potentially catastrophic stuff going on in the world that sport actually ought to feel a bit daft and irrelevant, or we have seriously lost the plot. Our interest in it ought to be inconsequential.

Otherwise, it’s that old Roman thing about bread and circuses, isn’t it?

I dare say those in other frivolous ‘professions’ like television critics, fashion models and chancellors of the exchequer may feel likewise. Or not.

Yes, it’s nice that so-and-so has a new half-back or that an even bigger so-and-so has only been given a one-match ban for planting someone on his bonce, but what are your views on Grexit? You do have a view on Grexit, don’t you?

What might the future implications be for a Europe inhabited by our children and our children’s children? And I don’t mean with regard to who is going to get through next year’s RLWC2017 Euro qualifiers.

No one expects you to solve the problem; you couldn’t if you wanted to. Just let us know what you think, wittily if possible, but with an interesting angle on it prompted by an open enquiring mind.

To paraphrase Edmund Burke: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and presumably women] to do nothing.’

Or the W.B. Yeats poem ‘The Second Coming’: “Things fall apart when… …the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Especially when James Child has been refereeing.

But then I check myself. This is only Twitter after all. Who am I to tell folk how to use it? The need to keep things in perspective works both ways.

And if sport and by extension rugby league does have any value then it must be this ability to lift us out of the day-to-day mire and help us to escape our real world troubles.

That’s an all the more important function, I expect, when your job isn’t faffing about on a computer keyboard all day, but saving actual human lives, or teaching children in the face of bureaucratic meddling, or driving Tube trains.

The danger is, though, that if we become obsessed by sport – and indeed any branch of the entertainment industry – then we risk losing perspective on the issues that actually matter. The stuff that really does need sorting out or changing is drowned in an ocean wave of trivia.

The very same trivia that, when taken in moderation, keeps everyone sane in the face of a brutal uncaring universe. A bit of balance is necessary too.

So let’s tweet about sport by all means. I dare say I’ll continue to do so myself on and off, should anyone give a toss. But perhaps we should remember too the words of the great cricket writer C.L.R. James – ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ – and apply that philosophy to rugby league too.

And broadening this out to where we came in, the point of actual sports journalism, if those of us who are paid to do so must write and broadcast about fun and games for a living, then let’s at least make what we produce worthwhile.

Instead of leaning on cliché after cliché, hiding behind official press releases and taking any new development as read, why not try to grapple with matters arising in an interesting, articulate and even amusing manner?

Or alternatively do something else entirely. Like have a cup of tea.


Tone’s Tips: Victories for Leeds, Saints, Hull, Salford, Warrington and Catalans. RFL to spend £295,000 pre-tax profit on pies and vol au vents.

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