Yet, although scores of academic voices hold forth in Reclaiming the Game, only rarely do they reach beyond stale comment on camaraderie and the pleasures of physical conditioning. They have little to say about what sports can teach about the difference between mediocrity and achievement, about how athletes of superior gifts can become inspiring models, and —more broadly—about the uses of excellence. Dimness about athletic self-expression can lead to self-deprivation as pitiable as that caused by unresponsiveness to music or history or the visual arts.
The larger goal should be to moderate the obsession with rank-ordering human activities. Establishing hierarchies—athletes above thinkers, thinkers above athletes—has a long history in the West, it's true; moments have occurred when aspirations of mind were pitted against sports idolatry in absolute terms—us or them. "Spirit ver-sus sport—that is the essence of the conflict," said the classicist Werner Jaeger summing up an ancient strug-gle between ideals—between Athens's emerging rage for philosophy and old aristocratic Pindaric worship of Olympic victories as "revelation[s] of the victor's divine arete, or wisdom." (Or as Xenophanes said: "This wisdom of ours is better than the strength of men and horses.... There is no justice in preferring strength to wisdom.")