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Sports in the US: Year-round madness

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All this is hardly a bad thing. Sports, after all, teaches us about discipline and how to play with others. It gives us a diversion from the mundane aspects of human existence. It makes us less sedate and more communal.

"In a world where most people can't agree on anything, people can agree on a passionate interest in sports," says John Skipper, executive vice president of content at ESPN, the sports network.

Even more broadly, it is one of the few phenomena that can transcend race and class divisions, becoming what Bill Littlefield, who hosts a sports show on National Public Radio, calls a "marvelously easy social lubricant." "It's much easier to talk about that than subjects that require actual knowledge, such as the economy or healthcare packages or whether or not we should be invading more countries," he says. "It's sort of ... a feeling of belonging that is easy to get, easy to achieve."

Sports, in another words, may be the closest thing Americans have to a national hearth. "Sports is one of the most overt and direct expressions of community identity that we have in our society," says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

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