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What matters and what does not
On sign-stealing, expulsions from Congress, and how far we should go to protect our origins
The football program at the University of Michigan is simultaneously under an FBI investigation into "inappropriately accessed" computer accounts and an NCAA investigation into an alleged complex program to steal the sideline signals used by opposing teams. The two cases are said to be separate from one another, which, if true, would be symptomatic of a wildly out-of-proportion sense of what matters to that community.
■ It is a sad contemporary problem that too many people are unable or unwilling to sort the serious from the trivial. College football may be a wonderful source of diversion and entertainment for tens or even hundreds of millions of people, but it remains only a sport -- and no more than that. No globally or historically significant outcomes are to be obtained from two teams meeting on the gridiron. And yet there are those who would risk actual prison time in order to win. Something is gravely wrong when that is the case.
■ That anything-it-takes approach to winning games is indicative of a failure to know that sports are ultimately trivial: They exist to provide entertainment, not to solve real problems.
■ And it's not simply a matter of people who take trivial things far too seriously, but also a problem of people taking fundamentally serious matters and trivializing them for their own benefit, like the member of Congress who treats his own expulsion vote as a laughing matter. He is in a similar role as his colleague, who trivializes the word "genocide" as a campaign prop.
■ These are two sides of the same coin: Taking the fundamentally unserious (like college sports) far too seriously, and treating the fundamentally serious (like the conduct of members of Congress) as nothing more than a circus sideshow. Responsible adults have to be able to draw distinctions between what really matters and what really doesn't. Furthermore, real adults have to possess the self-respect to correct their friends and allies when they cross over the line.
■ It is far worse to commit the actual infraction, of course, but to tolerate among us those who cannot or will not tell the difference only invites trouble. We shouldn't be afraid to call them out, even if we like the results they're trying to achieve.