NEW YORK—With its confidence fading, its fans dissatisfied, and without a notable success since the Stanley Cup finals, sports is officially suffering an agonizing slump.
"Whether it's a mental fatigue, a lack of emotional involvement, or simply its age beginning to keep up with it, sports simply hasn't been able to do anything whatsoever for quite. a while now," said noted sports psychologist Dr. David Grand, who tracks sports' annual performance and says this may be the worst year for the recreational activity since it went professional in the early 20th century. "Whatever the reason, sports has just been falling flat on its face for the better part of a year."
Although experts differ on the exact length of the slump thus far, with some saying that the Steelers' Super Bowl was the last real hit sports had while others go as far back as the Michael Vick dogfighting arrest for the slumps' beginning, most generally agree that there is no end in sight.
"Just look at the last month alone: Sosa and performance-enhancing drugs, a much-hyped Kobe/LeBron NBA finals that embarrassingly didn't pan out, hockey playoffs that no one cared about, Favre refuses to just go away, and NASCAR is fading," said Grand. "And sports used to be a five-tool distraction. Now it's striking out everywhere you look, and there seems to be no escape from its struggles. I mean, I'm trying to not even pay attention to boxing."
Even in its minor, more niche categories—areas that once added flavor and dimension to its reputation—sports is struggling. The cash-strapped WNBA recently signed a deal to allow sponsor logos on its game jerseys, IndyCar racing is adrift and having its least interesting season in years, and, some say most humiliating of all, professional wrestling continues to be relatively popular.
"Slumps are as mysterious as they are tough," said Dale Gregory, Duke university's director of sports studies. "The problem sports has now is not to become preoccupied and anxious, not to obsess about what went wrong with Chad Ochocinco, not to get worked up about how Pacman Jones won't go away, not to fixate on Yao Ming's injury. Sports just has to relax and do what it does best. Have a Yankees/Red Sox ALCS, maybe. People like that."
Others say sports has been relying too much on its standard formulas and is in a rut just as much as a slump. "The unprecedented growth of its popularity in the early part of the decade made sports think it could do no wrong. Now, it doesn't know how to deal with the reality," says sports analyst Meghan Carlton. "We should have seen the warning signs back when sports drifted into self-destructive, risk-taking behavior like tournament poker and ultimate fighting. Sure, it's still involved with golf and tennis, but that doesn't mean it hasn't developed a dark side."
Those close to sports hope that the new NFL season will help sports snap out of whatever is holding it back, barring a highly unlikely spate of exciting late-summer baseball. Others are not certain that resuming its old routine is what sports needs, or would indeed be good for its long-term health.
"Frankly, sports is showing all the signs of being an overworked, overstressed field of human endeavor," Grand says. "Frankly, it's been doing double duty for years, probably since the collapse of religion. It should reaffirm itself, concentrate on its games, and stop trying to be all things to all people. Otherwise, sports will just have to give up for good and leave us with nothing but arts and literature. No one wants to see that."