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Sports Writer Craig Calcaterra on Healthy Fandom

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On the new episode of Prognosis Ohio, Dan Skinner talks with sports writer and Ohioan Craig Calcaterra about his new book, Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game.

Dan welcomes sports writer and Ohio local Craig Calcaterra to Prognosis Ohio. Craig is the author of Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game, available now from Belt Publishing, an outstanding home grown publisher out of Cleveland. He is a self-described recovering attorney who also produces a fabulous daily baseball newsletter, Cup of Coffee.

Americans have some problems with sports. In extreme cases, fans literally feel sick about bad outcomes. Passionate fandom can go too far, much like an unhealthy relationship. Craig’s argument? It’s okay to enjoy watching sports, but if it’s not fun…don’t do it!

As Calcaterra explains, sports can be a proxy for the nation’s attitudes. We say racism is a public health crisis, but there is little appetite among many fans for players who comment on society in the NFL (see Colin Kaepernick). The NBA does marginally better, than other sports, but only because the star players demand that they do.

The specter of the rise of sports betting: Draft Kings advertisements are becoming ubiquitous and now ESPN shows odds during programming; betting is becoming part of mainstream coverage. There are clear public health implications to sports gambling. Craig believes leagues have embraced it because they don’t want to be left behind and there is big money to be made. Betting is already aimed at exploiting addictive gamblers and creating new ones.

There are whole sports shows on television and radio devoted to sports betting. Check out this article about MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred saying something that might better have been left unsaid. Be sure to check out Dan’s conversation about sports betting with Rob Moore of Scioto Analysis. You can stream the episode here.

In Rethinking Fandom, Calcaterra delves into critiques of democracy and the fleecing of taxpayers to pay for professional sports stadiums. What do we value? Giveaways for billionaires with no consequences signal a sick society. We won’t pay for public health, public schools or public roads, but cities can generally come up with money to keep sports franchises happy. For example, Buffalo, NY just voted to fund a stadium, but struggles to provide funding for mental health services.

Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game features health issues like performance-enhancing drugs, concussions and other physical & mental damage among players. NFL players in particular are treated like disposable gladiators.

Dan asks: Why the primary focus on men’s sports? According to Craig, media say they don’t cover women’s sports because no one cares about them, but it’s a circular argument. If people could see the contests, they would probably want more (look how much better the U.S. women’s soccer team is than the men’s!). Media are culpable for lack of attention to women’s sports.

Dan wonders about the role of health care systems as pre-eminent sponsors of sports. Craig mentions previous Prognosis Ohio guest, Brian Alexander (author of The Hospital – do yourself a favor and read its. Big companies try to associate themselves with something people love, and nothing’s as powerful in American culture as sports logos.

Ultimately, Craig believes sports are a net positive. Shared fandom provides a sense of community. But each fan has options regarding how they want to be a fan.

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