I’ve missed out on most of the news here in a mostly media-free week in Tahoe, with occasional updates as family members tune in on their smartphones or laptops: Clarence Clemons’ stroke (oh no!), Terry Pratchett’s decline (sigh), Rep. Weiner’s resignation (about time), the governor’s veto of the proposed budget (no surprise). So I was startled when I checked into Facebook and saw a reference to destruction in Vancouver. Vancouver, lovely city–what happened? An earthquake? Fire? Oh, the Stanley Cup. What an insanely stupid reason to do damage to anything or anyone.

I’m a sports fan, but still, I wonder whether sports have had a net positive or a net negative effect on the world. Considering that for every win there is a loss, the joys of one’s team winning seem like a wash. The beauty of human bodies doing amazing things, which could transcend that zero-sum calculation, goes largely unappreciated: just go to a baseball game, see the visiting shortstop make a gorgeous play, and listen for the sounds that follow, and they’ll mostly be groans instead of “ooh”s. Sports are hailed for teaching people to work in teams, but in a sports context, as in a military one, teamwork comes only because of, and at the expense of, a common enemy. Some would argue that sports sublimate violence that would otherwise take much more destructive forms, but as far as I know that hypothesis hasn’t been tested. If it were true, one would think that the world’s most sports-mad countries would be less inclined than others to make war. I’d count the prostitution of universities to their sports programs as one for the loss column.

What do you think? Is the world a better place for the existence of sports, or would we be better off without them?