I don’t think debate is a sport. I think years of swirlies and teasing from jocks would make even the debaters to be hesitant towards such a categorization. Still, debate is a highly competitive and tactical contest that pits individuals against each other and overall a pretty bizarre spectacle. Whitman was filled with debaters this weekend and I wanted to see a match (game? bout? contest?) in person.
First thing to know about debate matches is that you do not need to arrive early. In fact, you shouldn’t. There aren’t exactly people fighting for seats and it isn’t like you can watch them warm up or get autographs beforehand anyway. The debaters roll in flustered and feigning confidence just prior to the event beginning. While Whitman likes to associate debate with the pubescent high schoolers who swarm the campus in oversized suits and disproportionate fedora numbers (you should never have more than one fedora wearer per social circle). This was college debate. The debaters are underdressed and unshaven and the judge is a pretty young woman in what you hope (for her sake) is fake fur.
The debate topics are predetermined. You probably should pay attention beforehand because as soon as the match starts there is no telling what the debaters are talking about. As they rattle off big words a mile per minute, stopping only to gasp for air like they just played their first minutes of organized sports, they will shoot through topics. The debate I watched started with talk of foreign relations in North Africa. Next thing I knew the opposition was bringing in references to Fight Club. At the risk of breaking the first rule, I will say that I know for a fact that Palahniuk’s “organization for quarreling” did not take place in Africa.
Apparently, as I learned through inappropriately loud whispering that drowned out the “Fight Club Defense” as it would later be remembered as, the opposition was using a defense of questioning the purpose of debate and urging the judge not to vote for the affirmative because it would only buy into a useless system.
This, to me, carries the argumentative merit of the one kid in every English class who supposes that perhaps “the book is just a book, and doesn’t mean anything because it is words on paper.” Only the debaters are debating about the pitfalls of debate. That would be like that idiot in every English class somehow getting his idea published. Why books shouldn’t be taken seriously by That One Idiot. Probably a bestseller.
The next hour was a debate that focused on whether debate mattered or what argument lacked logic, but seemed to turn their back to Africa altogether. I have to assume that debating mundane issues while ignoring an entire continent needing attention is what makes debate a solid gateway into law school or political careers.
You can’t really cheer for debate, though I don’t know what you would cheer for. A coherent sentence? It finally ending? Do you cheer for the judges? I don’t know, and quite frankly, I am pretty glad about that.