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Sports - Purest or Prima Donna???

When I was a younger man, there was nothing more important to me than sports, and maybe music, which we discussed last week – OK, I’ll admit I needed to broaden my horizons and become a bit more mature 😊. I followed every sport and was consumed with sports nearly every moment of every day. One of my High School best friends and I played sports year-round and we were fortunate enough to play at a school small enough that allowed us to participate in two sports, baseball and track & field, at the same time or during the same season. (we both unofficially hold the school record with 16 varsity letters each – I promise no more glory days 😊) I also coached for 19 seasons, with a 70%-win record, and was a licensed official in five sports for many years. I only say this because I want to show that I know a little something about sports, from several different, up-close and personal, view points.

We did not only play every sport offered at our school, but we were huge fans of our college and professional favorites. What I loved about playing and being a fan, was that sports in general were not yet spoiled by big money and even bigger egos. Sure, there were egos, but not because there were millions of dollars, and endorsements, on the line, but mainly because of the inflated views of some of the athlete’s talents and capabilities. We busted our butts, stayed in shape year-round, and genuinely loved playing the games, and as competitive as some of the games got, there was no trash talk nor in your face attitudes. Sports taught us teamwork, discipline, accountability, communication, community, and built lasting friendships and memories.

The primary sports we played were the mainstream sports. In alphabetical order; Baseball was a true team sport where everyone did their best for team success. Basketball was a finesse team sport, where working together, without physical contact, for the greater team good, was the way the game was played. Football, the ultimate team sport, was about physically doing your best to outmuscle, out think, out design, and sometimes out trick your opponents to a victory. Track and field was the ultimate individual sport which required maximum individual performances, and various different talents, to win individually and also as a team.

In those days, the greats were Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt, Hank Aaron, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Roger Staubach, Gale Sayers, Bart Star, Johnny Unitas, Wilma Rudolph, Rafer Johnson, Roger Bannister, and Bob Beaman. Sure, these folks had their issues and quirks, but they were professional, likeable, and always conducted themselves as people you would admire and like to know. In those days there were 60% of the athletes you could support, 20% that were too arrogant, and 20% who would follow whichever persona their teammate leaders exuded.

My how the times have changed. Today, Sports are a mess, with work stoppages, strikes, contract holdouts, and an entire professional league who, by design does nothing to improve their officiating and intentionally directs them to not make calls so to avoid the public backlash from obvious bad calls. Baseball is also a mess with rules changing every year, players cheating with performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), and big-market teams becoming so wealthy that small market teams can rarely compete, and on the oft chance they can field a good team, they cannot sustain it for more than 2-3 seasons. Basketball, is equally messy. No longer a finesse game, today it is five-on-five football, with players fouling each other constantly, carrying the ball, travelling rarely called as a violation, and egos bigger than the arenas in which they play. Football has probably stayed as close to its origin of any of these first three sports, but the personalities have significantly degraded in their level of professionalism, the rules are non-existent, unless you are a weaker team or happen to have gotten officials that will actually make a call, and the ethics and generally professional business culture of the NFL itself is circling the drain and almost completely flushed down the toilet. Track and field is without a doubt the most pure and professional, as compared to the past, but even this sport has succumbed to PED’s and some unprofessional actions and attitudes.

Quite honestly, it’s very difficult to revere any of these athletes. Today I believe the percentage of likeable and supportable athletes is exactly the opposite as it was in my childhood; 20% I can support, 20% are too arrogant, and 60% will follow whichever persona their teammate leaders exude. Gone are the days of the athletes simply doing a job by playing the game the best they can. I miss Marvin Harrison scoring a touchdown and simply handing the referee the ball without any crazy antics or gestures. Marvin did it this way because that’s what he was paid to do, catch passes and score touchdowns. He didn’t have to beat his chest, scream obscenities at, or demean in any way, the defenders he just beat, nor was it appropriate to act like a total idiot, because he had been here before – he caught passes and scored touchdowns all the time – he didn’t need to act as if this was the only time ever that he could accomplish what he was paid to do. I chuckle at the players who act all arrogant and cocky when they make one great play…one…out of 30-60 plays a game, and you look up at the scoreboard and that players team is behind by 30 points…wow you showed them how bad you can be while you get beat by your opponent! 😊

So, why are we here or how did we get away from the true “team” sports and make it all about the individuals? Quite honestly, I blame two things, the love of money and the media. No, I’m not trying to jump on any proverbial bandwagon by blaming everything blindly on the media but one look at history clearly shows that media has played a huge role here and the love of money is primarily what drives their behavior. However, there seems to be a need to embellish and dramatize everything, and it’s not so sexy and quite frankly takes more work to truly celebrate everyone on a team. It is far more simple, cost less, and I would say is far more lazy to just single out one or two “stars” to focus their time on. Let’s call this the ESPN effect, even though it was occurring to a lesser extend before ESPN ever existed. They have just taken the concept and made it their number one priority and strategy – Ignore the “team” and what sport was built for, and make it all about the people we wish to make “stars!” Try watching any sporting event and I guarantee you will hear about some player who is or was the greatest to ever do some obscure thing. For example, I think John Doe was the greatest left hander, under six foot tall, to ever where pink underwear while sleeping in a dugout before coming into a game where he tripped over first base. Ha Ha!

Yes, there are “stars” but these athletes cannot be “stars” without their teams. Let’s be honest about this, Peyton Manning could not have possibly had the career he did without an offensive line giving him time to pass, without receivers who could get open and catch the ball, running backs who could keep the defense honest and not solely focus on the passing, and a strong or at least adequate defense. Mike Trout can’t drive in runs in Baseball if his teammates don’t get on base in front of him and great fielders can’t make great plays without knowing the pitchers and catchers calls and the tendencies of the batters. Basketball “stars” can’t score if they don’t have teammates that pass them the ball, set picks for them, nor block out to get rebounds. Many people say Tom Brady is the GOAT (greatest of all time), I do not. Why do they say this – because he’s been fortunate enough to be one of the 53 teammates to play on a TEAM that won 7 super bowls. However, as I said about Peyton Manning, Brady can’t succeed as a passer without a solid line, good receivers, good running backs, and a strong defense. The reason I don’t feel he is the GOAT, is because anyone who has ever watched football knows he’s only as good as his teammates. Put pressure on Brady, and you make him a very average quarterback – Games where teams that have had great pass rushers or schemes, have winning records against Tom Brady teams. It’s the TEAM, not the individual.

Even though the ESPN effect is alive and well and thriving, a good team will still nearly always beat any “star” driven team. Even when the leagues, their owners, and the media clearly show their true desire is anything but building teams, but more about creating and extolling their “stars.” There are many examples of this: George Steinbrenner, from 1973-2010, went out and bought every “star” player he could for 37 years. While he did buy 7 world series titles in those 37 years, more times than not, the “stars”/teams he “bought” lost to better “teams.” Yes, he won 19% of those years, but the better teams won 81% of those titles. Dan Snider in Washington is another example of this. Mr. Snider, throughout the early 2000’s, went out and “bought” the best football players he could and in several of those years, his teams were declared, by the media, to be absolute shoe-ins to win the super bowl. Since Mr. Snider bought the team in 1999, the Washington Football team (formerly the Redskins) has ZERO super bowl titles during his majority ownership.

Then there was the Miami Heat. Up and coming “star” Lebron James decided to go play basketball for the Miami Heat, and that team also signed Chris Bosh to a line up with “star” guard Dewayne Wade. This was hyped by every media outlet as the greatest team, of any kind, ever assembled. It was so hyped that it even prompted an evening prime time television special dubbed The Decision. Immediately this team was automatically “given” the next upcoming NBA title, without ever playing a game together, as all of media-dom assured us a “team” like this could not be beaten. Let’s just add, if ever there was a sport where Individual “stars” could dominate, it is likely Pro Basketball, or as I called it; five-on-five football. Well, the first NBA finals quickly were upon us and the Heat were overwhelming favorites, as you would expect with all this “star” hype – they lost the championship to a true team; the Dallas Mavericks and the series didn’t even go seven games. Dallas won the title 4 games to 2.

So, I think I have made a compelling case that “sports” are no longer sports. The innocence, the pure competition factor, the gentleman and woman behavior and attitudes, the love of the game, and the true social values, are either gone or are quickly eroding away. In 1975, every opportunity I had to watch or go see a game, I jumped at - 100%. By 1980, that number had shrunk to 80% and by the year 2000, it was less than 50%. Today I watch my professional football team 100%, but I only watch my favorite Baseball, Hockey, and College Football team, when I have nothing else pressing. In total this likely equates to 10%. Sure, some of this is because I’ve gotten older, more family focused, and certainly more mature. But a great deal of it has happened because it’s no longer about Sports in its purest form – today it has become all about the “stars” or quite frankly, the Prima Donna’s!

I miss true sports, great athletes, mature young men and women doing their very best, at a game they love, without having to point to themselves in all they do. Obviously, I am a purest, and I truly revere those great athletes and have very fond memories of those times. I am saddened that very few of todays’ events, create memories that I, or we, should embrace.

Here’s an added feature that I’ve always wanted to publish. While it does focus on Individuals, I think you will see how these individuals were athletes who focused on the “team” and not on being a Prima Donna – These views are solely my opinion as an avid sports fan:

Greatest Team FB Players:

QB: Joe Montana, Bart Star, Roger Staubach

RB: Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Walter Peyton, Gale Sayers

WR: Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald Jr, Marvin Harrison

WR: Sterling Sharpe, Fred Biletnikoff, Lynn Swan

TE: Antonio Gates, John Mackey, Ozzie Newsome

LT: Anthony Munoz, Johnathon Ogden, Walter Jones

RT: Forrest Gregg, Joe Stydahar, Bob St. Clair

LG: Larry Allen, Gene Upshaw, Bruce Matthews

RG: Randall McDaniel, Jerry Kramer, Steve Wisniewski

C: Jim Otto, Mike Webster, Jeff Saturday

RB/SB: Darren Sproles, Paul Hornung, Kevin Faulk

Greatest Baseball Players:

LF: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Stan Musial

CF: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio

RF: Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Babe Ruth

3B: Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, George Brett

SS: Derek Jeter, Ozzie Smith, Ernie Banks

2B: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Ryne Sandberg

1B: Lou Gehrig, Jimmy fox, Hank Greenberg

P: Cy Young, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton

C: Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk

RP: Mariano Rivera, Dan Quisenberry, Trevor Hoffman

Greatest Athletes who Played Basketball: F: Karl Malone, Julius Erving, Kevin Garnett F: Elvin Hayes, Lebron James, Moses Malone C: Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwan, Patrick Ewing G: Isiah Thomas, George Gervin, Walt Frazier G: Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordon, Kobe Bryant 6th Man: Vinnie Johnson, Toni Kukoc, Michael Cooper

Greatest Basketball Players:

F: Tim Duncan, Jerry Lucas, Charles Barkley

F: Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Bird, Bob Petit

C: Bill Russell, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabar

G: Oscar Robertson, Ervin Johnson, John Stockton

G: Jerry West, Jason Kidd, Stephen Curry

6th Man: John Havilcek, Manu Ginobli, Kevin McHale

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