Now that we’ve determined that all of sports is populated by greedy, selfish, immoral people without the ability to moderate their insatiable appetites for drugs, alcohol and more lurid pursuits, what’s left? Is there anything redeeming about this squabbling group of millionaires and billionaires? Is there anything we can do to bring back those grand old days when sports was clean and wholesome? You bet there is!
We can take a breath and a step back. And if that step takes us near a mirror, well, so much the better, because we play a large and hysterical role in the “trouble” with sports today.
While there is no defense for players who use performance enhancing drugs to gain unfair advantage or those involved with infamous and well publicized scandals, we need to step down off our moral soapbox and evaluate where that indignation comes from.
It’s a fascinating aspect of human nature that we ascribe higher moral expectations on famous people. As if. Not only are they exactly the same as you and me, but they face even more temptations. That doesn’t excuse poor decisions, but don’t we make the same sometimes? The difference is we don’t have two dozen photographers and/or reporters hanging on our every gaffe. And, outside our family, who is looking at us as a “role model”? Fame and fortune should not be confused with infallibility or a precision-tuned moral compass.
There are plenty of fine, responsible people within the sports industry. Most of these, as in real life, go unnoticed. Our craving for salacious details is almost as high as our complaining about never seeing “good” news. Like most things in the media, if we didn’t want it, they wouldn’t show it. So you don’t get as many stories of peaceful countries at war with no one. You don’t see tales of hundreds of millions of everyday workers putting in a solid work week, supporting their families and giving to charity.
And you don’t read as much about thousands of athletes living happy and lawful lives. Because we find that boring. We want to know when these overpaid, over-muscled thugs do something wrong so we can righteously shake our heads in dismay or confirmation.
As a fan, I don’t want “my” players to ever leave my team. Except if he stinks. Or he’s old. Or he cost me the big game. Or he makes a mistake. Especially that. How could he do that to me, his loyal fan? I don’t care if he feels unappreciated by his boss or thinks he should get paid more. I don’t leave my job and I have all that; he shouldn’t leave his. Of course, if someone actually offered me a better job with more pay, I’d be gone in a puff of smoke.
Down here in South Florida, recently three basketball players decided to join together on one team to increase their chance of winning championships. There were opportunities to gain greater notoriety and money elsewhere, but they passed that up to join forces. In return, the group is roundly booed in whatever city they play in (even cities that had no expectation of landing the players). While one of the three had a PR vapor lock, all other aspect of the choice was purportedly admirable: it really wasn’t about the money; it was about trying to win it all. And we hated them for it.
So if you’re an athlete, what do you do? Give up the money and you are called names and vilified. Go for the money and you are called names and vilified. That sounds like a lose-lose scenario. And a bit selfish on our part. Freedom of choice for all but the famous.
The world of sports has changed. Free-agency has bred transient teams with interchangeable parts. Just as the rest of the world has changed with cellular phones and TV over the internet. Funny thing, though. If you drop all the indignation and the rhetoric, you find that those changes don’t affect your enjoyment of life in general and sports in particular.
Thrilling to the athletic feats, the camaraderie of teamwork and the unification of a city full of people; these things remain timeless and absolute. Only our own prejudices can take that away from us.