MIND GAMES: A Call to Analysts

Andrew MadoniaContributor IMay 29, 2009

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 12:  (from left to right) Actress Emily Mortimer, Director Woody Allen, actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and actress Scarlett Johansson attend a photocall promoting the film 'Match Point' at the Palais during the 58th International Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2005 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

In a funny scene from Annie Hall, Alvy Singer, played by Woody Allen, attends a swanky cocktail party with his wife Robin, a writer.  Alvy, hostile and sardonic, sneaks into a bedroom to watch the New York Knicks on television.  Robin enters and the following tiff takes place. 

Robin: Here you are.  There’s people out there.

Alvy: You won’t believe this. Two minutes ago, the Knicks were ahead fourteen points, and now they’re ahead two points.

Robin: What is so fascinating about a group of pituitary cases trying to stuff a ball through a hoop?

Alvy: What is fascinating is that it’s physical.  You know, it’s one thing about intellectuals: they prove that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what’s going on.

Alvy makes a great point.  Basketball, of course, is physical, and the physicality makes it fascinating.  On the other hand, Robin, an intellectual, demeans the game.  To her, basketball is the barbaric pastime of philistines. 

Alvy and Robin are fictional characters, but they raise, for me, two serious questions.  First, Are sports intellectual?  And second, Should we, as analysts, think and write about sports with intellectual fervor?  The answer, to both, is yes. 

As analysts, we’re obligated to appeal to Alvy, while stimulating Robin.  We must simultaneously celebrate the physical and justify the mental.  Social scientists, for example, use sports to illuminate a theory.  We, then, should use the social sciences to illuminate sports.  After all, sports are mind games.