Our sportsworld is a mess — and I’m a hypocrite.
I am both a fan and a skeptic. Much of what happens in sports at its highest levels I deplore, yet my days and nights are taken up by watching games or by reading and writing about sports. Sports are an essential part of my life.
Every day, it seems, brings another revelation of corrupt, immoral, unprincipled, deceptive, distasteful, or unhealthy practices in the world of sports: arrests, gun violence, DUI with death resulting, illegal performance-enhancing drug use, child-abuse, cheating, lying, suicide.
And the money involved and at stake ensures the rampant commercialism of sports, greed, and over-the-top conspicuous consumption.
Pro football is a mess.
Over 4,000 former NFL players are suing the league for withholding information about the dangers they faced in their playing careers from concussions, repetitive blows to the head.
Rodney Harrison, 41, last played for the Patriots in 2008. He admitted that he is “scared to death” about his future health.
All-Star linebacker Junior Seau, 43, took his own life last May by shooting himself in the chest, choosing this method of suicide so his brain might be intact for scientific study. Posthumous analysis indeed showed evidence of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).
Football’s apotheosis, the Super Bowl, recently attracted 110 million viewers, the third-most-watched TV event in history (the other two were previous Super Bowls).
How do we balance safety concerns in football with the enormous popularity of the game?
Simply put, we don’t.
We are inured to the danger of the game. We are absorbed by the spectacle.
Did I watch the game?
Amid misgivings about the orgiastic excess of the whole enterprise, I rooted hard for the Niners and was dismayed when their furious rally fell just short of victory.
Baseball is a mess.
Steroids are back in the news, with A-Rod and National League MVP Ryan Braun implicated again in the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Melky Carera, suspended last year for testing positive for testosterone, watched his Giants team go on to win the World Series. He got a $16 million, two-year contract from the Blue Jays this year.
The so-called Steroid Era in baseball is an enormous stain on the game. When statistical landmarks are discounted, all records subject to interpretation, much of the fun out of following the game is lost.
So I’ll not be watching much Major League Baseball this season, right?
Not on your life. I’ve already started draft preparation for my fantasy baseball league. I can’t wait to see how the Red Sox’s new approach will work.
Big-time college sports is a mess.
It has very little to do with “college,” making a mockery of the “student”/athlete.
Coaches move from school to school, paid more in salary than their Presidents. The athletes themselves are uncompensated, unless you consider a scholarship for an education that few want and only partake of reluctantly adequate compensation for the millions of dollars they earn for their universities.
Events like the BCS football championship games and basketball’s March Madness bring in millions for the schools and the NCAA.
My response: I’m headed to Atlanta in early April with my son Peter for the Final Four. It’s his high school graduation present.
How do I reconcile the excess and corruption of this sportsworld and my devotion to it?
It’s not easy.
Sometimes I tell myself that I like these sports in an essential way and played them myself and will not deny myself the opportunity to watch their most skilled practitioners.
Mostly, though, I take heart from watching sports at the lower levels of play and hoopla where it’s not a mess, where kids and young adults play for one another and the sheer enjoyment of the game and the exhilaration of competition and physical effort.
When I’m most discouraged by sports at the highest level, I am restored by going to a game locally.
I am not one to make exaggerated claims for sports participation as preparation for later life, but I do believe that kids benefit from the collaboration of team play and learn loyalty and discipline on teams. I am glad my kids — I have four — have played (or are playing) sports in school.
I am thrilled when I go to games, like the recent Vergennes-Middlebury boys’ basketball games, where the whole town turned out and the kids played their hearts out and shook hands at the end of the game.
Last week, at Middlebury College, along with 1,200 other fans, I saw perhaps the best basketball game I’ve ever witnessed, after all these years of watching games, when the college men’s team lost to Amherst, 104-101, on a shot in the final seconds of the third overtime period.
The quality of basketball in this game was high, played by real students, very good players, true, who are unpaid and go to class and study willingly, who commit themselves to sacrifice and dedication, and know that it will all end, soon enough.
These contests distilled the true essence of sports.