I helped a good friend move from Columbus, OH to St. Louis recently.
One of the advantages to being chronically underemployed is that it allows me plenty of time to visit friends, go bird watching, read long biographies of Abraham Lincoln – all the stuff that really makes life worth living.
Something amazed me on the trip as we left C-Bus, drove through Indianapolis and arrived in St. Louis. In each of those cities, the sports arenas are the most impressive buildings in town.
Columbus, Indianapolis and St. Louis have built magnificent cathedrals to sports that far outclass any of their other architecture, save the Gateway Arch in the Lou.
Columbus has colossal Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes play, a new state of the art downtown arena for an NHL team of all things and Ohio State additionally has the beautiful Schottenstein Center on campus for basketball. Indy meanwhile has stately Canseco Fieldhouse for the Pacers and a new stadium going up for the Colts which is one of the most remarkable structures I've ever seen. A brick and glass gargantuan in the midst of a downtown area devoid of anything near its scale or splendor. St. Louis has the Edward Jones Dome, a new baseball stadium, a relatively new downtown arena and St. Louis University is building a new gym for its athletic programs.
The rest of the buildings in those towns? Not so great. Hardly a construction crane to be seen anywhere.
Indianapolis was especially stunning. Driving through town, each side of the interstate was a mixture of run down homes, abandon warehouses, rail yards, tractor trailer parking lots, smokestacks and general depression broken only by two of the biggest most spectacular shrines to sports you've ever seen.
What does that say about priorities in Indianapolis?
It says Indy values sports above everything else.
How is that a good thing?
No world class city has sports as its top priority.
The city I live in, Atlanta, is a world class city. Atlanta does not have sports as its top priority and that's a good thing. Not putting sports first makes Atlanta a better city.
Atlanta puts housing and entertainment and business first.
The sports facilities in Atlanta from the Dome to Philips to Bobby Dodd Stadium and Turner Field are first rate, but they don't dominate the skyline.
Atlanta's sporting venues aren't the biggest, fanciest, newest buildings in town.
In Midtown and Downtown Atlanta, in Buckhead, the sports arenas are a part of the community, not the entire community.
Atlanta gets a bad rap as a sports city, but just because Atlantans aren't overboard when it comes to sports, just because we don't put sports above everything else in our lives, and we don't, that doesn't mean Atlanta isn't a great sports city.
Atlanta is a great sports city.
Atlanta has hosted a Super Bowl, the Olympics, it's the epicenter of college football, it hosts the SEC Championship and a great bowl game. Atlanta has every pro sport, the outlying area has minor league sports, we have a NASCAR track. TV ratings in Atlanta for major sporting events are always among the tops in the nation.
But here's a little secret and here's why Atlanta doesn't fill every stadium even for losing teams which seems to be most commentators' only criteria for being a great sports city: Atlanta has great weather and beautiful women and no other two things will make you follow sports less.
The two biggest impediments to being an obsessed sports fan are good weather and a girlfriend. Atlanta has both in abundance. For those reasons sports is just a part of the culture in Atlanta, not the entire culture.
Columbus, St. Louis, Indianapolis… Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, cities that are considered "great" sports town, they all have awful weather and ugly women.
That's a fact.
When you're inside six months a year and the girls are homely, you watch sports, you watch SportsCenter, you call talk shows and you demand your politicians build immaculate sports arenas because sports are the most important thing in your life.
That's not the case in Atlanta.
Sports is a part of what goes on in Atlanta. Where I was on my trip – Columbus, Indy, St. Louis – sports isn't a part of what goes on there, it's everything.
Buckeye football, Cardinals baseball, the Colts, that's everything to those communities.
What else have they got?
In Atlanta we have great sports, but we've also got great art and great museums and great restaurants and great shopping, entertainment and golf. We're outside 10 months a year. Being inside watching basketball isn't so appealing when it's 70 degrees outside and you've got a cute little dolly wanting to get cocktails.
That's the city you want to live in.
Look at the great cities in America – New York, LA, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco – in each of those cities, sports is important, but it's not everything. Boston and the Red Sox may be an exception to this.
The Yankees and Lakers and Bears are all important and incredibly popular in those cities, but there's also a lot more going on.
Look at the skyline of New York or Chicago or San Francisco. You don't see ballparks. You see the Chrysler Building, the Transamerica Building, the Sears Tower.
In world class cities, sports are a part of the culture not the whole culture; that's how it is in Atlanta and Atlanta is a world class city.
As a sports fan living in Atlanta, I don't apologize for not living in a city singularly obsessed with sports, I relish it. I brag about that fact.
Not being coo-coo for sports makes Atlanta a better city.