Thursday, August 2, 2012

185. Sports: Faithful Begets Violence

I recently found an "autobiography" that I had written when I was in fifth grade. As part of the assignment, we had to prepare a collage, in which the thing most important to us was placed in the middle.

In the center of my collage was a Super Bowl ring. In the explanation, I offered with complete seriousness, that if I did not win a Super Bowl ring, my life would be a failure. If that was not ambitious enough, I also planned on becoming a world class boxer, and winning a gold medal in the Olympics.

But the dream was not just a grade school whim, made after watching a Browns game or a Sugar Ray Leonard boxing match. It carried into high school and college, where my desire for greatness switched to baseball.

I watched "The Natural" probably over two dozen times, and the Roy Hobbs exchange with Iris Gaines about being the "best there ever was," was forever engrained in my head.

Roy Hobbs: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.

Iris Gaines: And then?

Roy Hobbs: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would've looked and they would've said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.

Already indoctrinated into the sports world, I was obsessed, like LeBron James, with winning a championship--and being the best. And then? What do you mean "and then" . . . what else is there?

As I have reluctantly given up my dreams of being the best there ever was in sports, I have followed a number of sports as a fan. Unfortunately, the only way I am getting a Super Bowl ring now is to buy an NFL team--and who has a billion dollars laying around for that?

But even my desire to be a fan is waning. As a country, and throughout the world, we have lost all perspective when it comes to sports. We want championships--and we do not care how they are obtained. We do not care what a championship might cost or who the players are.

We will pay twenty dollars for a beer or eight dollars for a hot dog. It is almost offensive in these economic times that fans would be willing to pay those prices so that billion dollar owners can afford million dollar players.

We will root for athletes who have committed deplorable and nearly unconsciousable acts, like Tiger Woods and Michael Vick. The city had its heart torn apart when LeBron James left Cleveland to assure himself of a championship (for how could he be "the best there ever was" without a championship?) But most would welcome him back in an instant.

When teams win (or lose) cities are vandalized by their fans. Fans even attack opposing fans-how dare they express passion for their team in our stadium? Somehow destruction and violence has become synonymous with faithfulness and celebration. It is not just in the United States either; soccer fans around the world are pretty serious about their "football" as well. Fans sometimes simply lose their minds.

I still like sports-there is something about the dedication and sacrifice of an athlete that appeals to me. I enjoy the competitive fire, the heart of persevering in the heat of battle or against the odds. As fans, we can still follow and root for our teams. Sports talk is fun, watching sports can be an engaging social event-there is nothing wrong with tailgating or family outings. But at some point, it needs to be just a game again. I am not a "loser" just because I am from Cleveland and Cleveland cannot win a major championship. While sports may be an escape from our daily life challenges, it might be better balanced with other important social issues and needs.

And the fans need to realize that they control everything about sports. It is a market economy and they are the customer. They control whether there is a salary cap in baseball, an NCAA football playoff system or how much money the players make. If it is unreasonable, or unjust, fans should stop supporting it. At some point, one would think that the growth of sports, and the unconditional support of its fans, is unsustainable.

I remember when Ohio State won the national football championship in 2002. I remember the elation, and celebration with my family and friends. It was one of the best games I had ever watched. But about an hour after the game, I had an "and then" moment. But for me, there was no "and then," I was just a fan. My life did not stop and I had to get up and go to work the next day-just like any other day. Well . . . almost like any other day.