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Selling Vice (and Virtue)

I doubt I’m the only one who finds NHL hockey to be virtually unwatchable these days. It’s not the quality of the on-ice product, although, I’m a Calgary Flames fan, so the product isn’t great. It’s the advertising. The decision to watch a live game these days is to decide in advance that you are willing to endure a steady torrent of gambling ads. Whether it’s regular old commercials or split-screen odds updates or intermission sponsorship of highlight packages or pretty much anything else that some marketing intern could dream up, gambling ads have taken over the game.

It’s not just hockey, of course. This is a disease afflicting pretty much every sport under the sun. The Atlantic recently ran a pre-Super Bowl article that wondered if America had gone too far in legalizing gambling (and marijuana). Here’s a quote:

These debates expose a conflict over what we believe about virtue and vice. If we think that human beings—especially young people who are forming the habits that will last a lifetime—tend to make decisions based on what they have reasoned to be their best interests, then legalization makes sense. If life is a series of contracts we enter into freely, then there’s no reason to keep potential harms off our smartphone or out of storefront dispensaries. However, this way of seeing the world overlooks the fact that our hearts and minds are shaped not only by reason but also by our experiences, affections, and, most important, our habits, which are just as often inexplicably self-destructive as they are reasonable.

How refreshing to see a main-stream publication acknowledge, you know, human nature. We are not rational creatures. Our affections lead us down dangerous and destructive paths. All. The. Time. Even when there are solemn warnings to gamble and consume “responsibly.” It’s almost as if information on its own isn’t enough to save us from ourselves. Who could have imagined?

(None of this should really be news to anyone, but, well, here we are.)

Alas, there is great profit to be derived from addiction. Booze, weed, gambling, social media, porn… the list could (and does) go on and on and on. And on. If we were to actually do what the sellers of vice instruct us to do and actually consume their products “responsibly,” people wouldn’t get rich. The profit margins require addiction. Addiction is the crucial piece of the business model. Again, a moment’s rational thought makes all of this patently obvious. But the charade goes on.

At any rate, the hockey broadcasters have no interest in being moral watchdogs. If we want to gamble away our life’s savings and destroy our relationships and end up in a pit of misery and addiction, well, that’s just our fault for not being responsible. They’re just trying to pay the bills and show us a game. They’re not here to tell us how to live our lives.

Except, they kinda, sorta do in other areas. The “Good Deeds Cup” exhorts young people to do, well, good deeds in their communities (for a prize). “Hockey for all” initiatives (usually sponsored by outrageously wealthy banks) loudly and passionately instruct us on the correct views when it comes to race and gender and inclusivity. Hockey broadcasters care very little about our personal ethics—they’ll happily sell us booze and gambling until we die—but they’re very concerned about how we think and behave when it comes to race, sex, and gender.

Or, maybe the sports broadcasters really care about very little at all, other than the bottom line. Whether it’s (selective) vice or (selective) virtue, the only thing that really matters is the selling. Or so a cynic might suggest. If there were any of those kicking about…

The Flames and the Red Wings are on tonight. In theory, a winnable game for Calgary. Maybe I’ll record it so I can watch without the ads. I have enough trouble with virtue and vice without the sellers getting involved.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. On first passing, this reads like every progressive, who by definition and slavish fidelity to ideology, are caught in the crosshairs of moral contradiction.

    February 16, 2023
  2. Ajanzen #

    And our Mr Gretzky seems to have become a player in the gambling Hockey World? I don’t know how his dad would feel about that.


    February 16, 2023
    • Growing up a Flames fan, I’ve never needed much of an excuse to be less than impressed with Gretzky 😉

      February 17, 2023

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