My Dear Sainted Mother, who takes her sports in small doses, has asked me often: “Why do you always watch sports?”

Well, I’m a guy, and it’s in the DNA, I think. We’re either supposed to participate in sports or watch them. There may be a state or federal law involved somehow.

Plus I’m a sportswriter. It’s an occupational hazard.

But these days, there’s a much more practical answer: Sports are much better than the alternative right now.

I’ll admit it. My television generally stays on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports South, CBS College Sports, Versus and even The Golf Channel. I’ll occasionally stray over to Fox News, because we can’t completely ignore the world, even when we’d like to.

And the past few weeks are some we’d probably like to ignore, or at least take a mulligan. This week would definitely be one of those.

We start things off with an economy that continues to tank. Before a bit of a rally over the past three or four days, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had lost almost 25 percent since Barack Obama took office, on top of the declines that took place before his inauguration. I don’t think that’s the change he intended for us to believe in.

Then there are tragic killing sprees, some way to close to home.

First the quadruple murders over in Hueytown, just down the street from my own church. A “jilted lover” — sometimes those of us in the press have such a quaint way of putting it — is alleged to have to have gone into a house in a middle-class residential neighborhood, intent on killing his ex. He did, and three others.

That story had barely hit the wire services when another came from suburban St. Louis, as a gunman went into a church service and blew away the pastor and four others.

Those two events had barely hit the top lines of The Drudge Report when news came from south Alabama of the killer who left ten people dead in Samson and Geneva before turning the gun on himself.

We’ve grown accustomed to stories of seemingly random murders and shootings in the mean streets of Birmingham, their numbers clicking over like points on a basketball scoreboard.

But mass murders in places like Hueytown, Samson or Maryville, Illinois are not the least bit commonplace, and are a shock to our collective psyche.

When bad news piles upon bad news, it’s instinctive for us to retreat into what we sometimes jokingly call our “happy place.” And for many of us, that happy place is a ball park, a football field, a bowling lane, or camped out in front of the TV to watch any or all of the above.

This isn’t a new concept at all. Think back to World War II, one of the most defining moments in our country’s history. We could easily have shut down all of our sports, and indeed some sports were not played during the war. But even Franklin Roosevelt recognized the role that sports plays in our society, and specifically requested that Major League Baseball — back then, our national pastime in fact, not just in name — continue to play during wartime, just to give the country something else to think about.

So even though many of the game’s best and brightest were off to fight the Axis powers, MLB soldiered on at home, though with greatly depleted team rosters.

Likewise with college football, then the dominant venue for the game. The Rose bowl even moved to Durham, North Carolina in 1942 just to avoid the possibility of Japanese attacks on the West Coast.

Want to take the argument back even farther? The look at the ancient Olympics. Warring nations laid down their arms during the quadrennial games. (Unfortunately, the modern games aren’t so farsighted, as games were cancelled in 1916, 1940 and 1944 because of world wars.)

A skeptic might be tempted to describe sports as a collective anesthestic under such circumstances. Strictly speaking, that might be correct. But it really serves to show the importance that sports has taken in our society, and how their loss would reduce our world to conflicts that we cannot always control.

We cannot shut out the troubles of world permanently, nor should we. Problems with the economy and society cannot be ignored. They won’t go away because we wish they would.

But we can set them aside briefly — if just for four quarters or nine innings.

Robert Carter is the sports editor of The North Jefferson News.

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