Monday, October 31, 2005

Bull Session

There has been a strange trend, slowly evolving in sports media, in which animals (horses, bulls, etc.) that participate in human-sanctioned games (races, etc. ) are called "athletes."

During a late-season Cubs rain delay, WGN ran a program highlighting 100 great athletes. One of these was Triple Crown winner Secretariat _ a race horse.

Today I leafed thru a recent copy of ESPN the Magazine and found an article on Reindeer _ a particularly ornery bull on the Professional Bull Riders circuit.

ESPN the Magazine extended its typical fawning treatment of human athletes to this animal _ calling it a "diva," and even running a portrait shot at the head of the article like the bull was Dwayne Wade. One expert praised Reindeer's athleticism in the story.

I suppose we should compliment ESPN for its superior mythologizing skills. Over the course of the article, I began to think of Reindeer as a star _ rich with the complexity our greatest sports heroes possess.

Is it cruel to call Secretariat and Reindeer by what amounts to a euphemism? Aren't they forced like slaves into these games? Aren't they goaded _ whipped and otherwise _ to be angrier, more violent?

The ESPN article makes it sound like Reindeer lives a life of splendor _ full of food and mates. The bull's owner seems to think Reindeer understands he is a prized performer _ that he likes it.

It's ridiculous to project human feelings onto animals, calling them "athletes" _ a title only humans should carry. It's insulting _ to both man and beast _ to liken what happens on the horse track or in the bull ring to a baseball game. Frankly, it's insane.

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