This past Friday evening, I got to again experience the very best of sports, which I have loved all my life. Six family and friends of mine accompanied me to Great America ballpark to watch the Cincinnati Reds battle the Los Angeles Dodgers, in what we are all hoping is a preview of the 2021 National League Wild Card Playoffs. We saw hard fought competition, great teamwork, outstanding performances, mutual respect, and a very entertaining and closely battled contest. There was no chest thumping, brash words, or actions, no grandstanding or macho stuff at all – just the pure love of the game and competition at its best. Friday night was everything I had come to love about sports and the athletes that play them. Everything I had followed and supported with every inch of my passion, but sadly, this game may just be an anomaly, to most of sports today.
If I’m being honest, there was a point in my life where I would go on-and-on about the great athletes of all time, or at least of my generation. People like Joe DiMaggio, Jesse Owens, Bill Russell, Steve Yzerman, and Roger Staubach. But today, not so much. Today, many of our athletic stars are far less concerned about being the people who seek out respect and admiration for the great leaders and role models they are, and seem more intent to be reckless, flamboyant, and self-absorbed.
As a true Christian man, I am sure the vast majority of athletes today, are no worse than the same percentages of those who have always lived their lives, as those we could or should admire, versus those whom we feel are, let’s just say, much less admirable. But there is something about today’s athletes that makes admiration one of the last things that comes to mind.
For example, on the admire-able front, the names I mentioned before were stellar civic leaders and men of strong ethical and moral character. DiMaggio and Staubach, like many others, enlisted and served, in our military while they were sports stars. Owens and Russell were outstanding men of character who blazed equality trails throughout their sports and careers. Staubach was also a key leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for many years. However sadly, there were others who flaunted their talents and ended up heavily involved in various forms of less desirable activities, such as crime, alcoholism, and drugs.
Athletes like Pat Tillman, Jackie Robinson, David Robinson, Ted Williams, and Willie Mays not only served in our Military, but also put their livelihoods on hold to risk their lives to serve and protect our nation. Each of them missing many months or years, of their playing careers, to serve while not pulling in that sports star paycheck and celebrity status. Yet many stars today publicly tout how disappointed they are in this country and lash out at the American way of life. They are part of this movement of privilege given to them by the talents God bestowed upon them, and the freedoms and advantages this country provides, only to shun both our country, but also turn their back on God’s love and grace.
I have always had a love for teams and athletes who put togetherness, family values, and Christ above everything, yet sadly the number of these teams and their players seem to be diminishing. Everything great about sports, teamwork, comradery, hard work, dedication, discipline, trust, and respect, seem to be waning. Today’s athletes publicly out their teammates, direct profanity ridden tirades at them on the court or field, and even refuse to play with “certain types” of people and/or performers. And they say this country causes such divisions – I think they need to look in the mirror for the cause.
Athletes used to work constantly to stay in shape, increase their strength, and work on bettering themselves, even in the off-season. Today, once they get that notoriety and/or big contract, they feel entitled and no longer have to work. Makes you both wonder, and at the same time understand, why injuries seem to be more prevalent, and careers seem to be far more short-lived?
Now we have added both gambling, and the ability for amateur athletes to sell their own image or likeness. Next, they are trying to pay student athletes because the schools make millions of dollars from big-time sporting events and national championship tournaments. I see a problem evolving here – right before our eyes!!!
There are many many points one could make why these are bad things, and quite frankly very few reasons why such changes are good for sport, our country, and the athletes themselves. But let me make just a few obvious points:
Gambling: We all can now gamble on sporting events, nearly anywhere and at any time. In fact, Lucas Oil Stadium just opened a Caesars Sportsbook lounge, situated right in the heart of the flow of the crowd, and between the concession stands. Let’s see, get a hot dog, place a bet, buy a souvenir, make a wager, get another beer, bet the under. This is where sports is today and it’s growing like a wild fire.
So, what keeps an athlete from betting on himself…OR…betting on the opponents and them impacting the game by doing better or intentionally not doing their best. Add to this the referees and officials…can they influence a games outcome…and could they bet on that game’s outcome; I think that’s a resounding yes!!! Seems to me we have historically banned players for life for doing such things, back when it was only legal in Las Vegas, but now we are inviting and enticing them to potentially impact games for the sake of that almighty dollar. I guess all these folks are too strong willed to ever be tempted to do any such things right??? Don’t you bet on it!!!
Selling one’s own likeness and image; How could this possibly go wrong? ☹ How many so-called up and coming stars have become successful enough in professional sports to put away millions of dollars, to live comfortably the rest of their lives? The vast majority have not; just look at how many Heisman Trophy winners became stars in football; less than 10%. How many athletes don’t even make it through a season or two, but they leave school early to pursue this career. So what career do they fall back on when they don’t make it, and that originally money runs out – I don’t see a huge employment demand for sports star wanna-bees!!!
Finally paying athletes to go to college – preposterous!!! They are already paid legally. They get free education, free room and board, and free meals when they go to school on scholarship, and very few of these “stars” are not on scholarship. These are just the legal perks. The big stars often get numerous advantages that are legally questionable such as clothing donations, donated cars, and other “perks.”
I never thought I would ever be saying, let alone even thinking, such things, but Sports have gotten out of hand. There is way too much money and too much short-term business strategies. What was once a great land of pure athleticism and teamwork, has turned into a playground for infants. I once admired the men and women of Sports, but today there is little to admire. Yes, these sports leagues do give millions away to charities and I am so glad for those charities. But it’s all under the guise of caring when it is simply done as a tax shelter.
I know this message has been mostly complaining and not so positive. But I have been, for the vast majority of my life, a huge sports fan, mainly because of people like Lou Holtz, Johnny Bench, Arnold Palmer, Peyton Manning, Larry Bird, Joe Montana, and Tim Tebow. I used to plan vacations and special outings around games. I’ve had season tickets for the Pacers and the Colts. I coached three different sports for a total of 19 seasons. I was a licensed official/referee in five sports for 20 years, and heck, my first ever life insurance beneficiary was the Edinburg High School athletic program. I ran the first ever sports trivia contest at Ball State and was a founding player on the inaugural Ball State Varsity Rugby team. There should be little doubt that sports was in my blood.
I’m sorry to seem a bit cynical, but today, I could care less. I still like watching the Colts, Notre Dame Football, and the Detroit Red Wings, but only on occasion. In my past, I wouldn’t have missed a game, if at all possible.
I used to love everything about sports and would tune into virtually any sport to watch. But that love today, unfortunately is going …going…and at this current pace, soon will be gone.