Ed. note: Awesome food for thought for the weekend from DBB'er MrHappyMushroom -- MW
A number of years back, I began to actually offend friends of mine by stating that the greatest regret in my life was Michael Bishop's fifty-ninth minute fumble against Texas A & M, which cost my K-State Wildcats a birth in the National Championship game. I've mourned deaths and lost relationships and other matters of greater gravity, but I refuse to regret them. Death and loss are apart of our world. If the wife hadn't left me in '96, I wouldn't be where I am now, for better or worse, (almost certainly better, I'm happy to report). Laurie's suicide in September of '89 shook me to the core and it was a true tragedy. But, as John Cale noted, "Life and death are just things you do when you're born". (Or maybe it's "when you're bored". But I've always preferred the former, as it seems less postured and more truly universal.)
But sports? There seems to be so little connection to the rest of the world. Michael--my favorite athlete ever to the degree that when I got to slap hands with him in Waco, Texas four weeks to the day earlier, I literally squealed like a school girl a third my age--needed not stretch his arm out for that meaningless extra yard. The Wildcats could have completed the most stunning achievement in the history of college sports (from the worst ever -- by a wide, wide margin -- college program to a national championship) and life could have gone on as for me as before with no threats to the rules of mortality, but with a transcendent spring added to my step.
In short, sports--except for those participating--ain't real. They are an artificial competition layered on top of a life where real and meaningful competition doesn't even exist. No matter how wealthy you are, you can always have more. You may love the spouse, but could always love him/her a bit more. You may be supremely proud of your child, but you always worry and the headlights of an approaching drunk driver could at any point signal the end of that joy.
But in sports, you can win. There's no ambiguity. So, why on earth do we devote countless hours of our limited years on earth screaming, rejoicing, crying, praying, smashing (my dorm room radiator did not survive Lee Smith's extra-innings gopher ball to Steve Fucking Garvey in the '84 NLCS), hyperventilating, yelling, and overall basing the state of our emotional well-beings to the actions of a group of (mostly) young men who are (often) unfathomably wealthy, and with whom (nearly always) we have no actual personal connection in any way, shape, or form?
Because they offer us victory, transcendence, and unmitigated triumph. And only they are capable of providing us with this illusion.This has ended up being an overlong intro to a fairly brief point. (What can I say?; I'm German...) And the point is that I'm becoming increasingly fascinated by the standards that we hold for our athletes and the lack of congruence with how we judge ourselves and other real people in the real world.
One case in point: the way we have conniption fits over a player who in any way speaks out about problems on the team or expresses his lack of support for the current regime. Stuckey refused to enter a game. McGrady and others openly mocked Kuester. Tay had his "buffoonery" comment, along with other similar outbursts. Rip seemed keen on getting himself ejected for the first half of the season. We were all pretty much in unison on this one--"unprofessional'; "cancerous"; "a disgrace".
Yet, if we step back a moment, how many of us would argue that the Pistons were a well-run team last year? How many of us have commented as to how strong a roster JOD put together this year, or how well Kuester juggled that roster and got the best out of it. Not a single one of us, of course; the Pistons were a lousy, lousy organization last year and have been for three consecutive seasons. And if we all knew this, is it any surprise that Tay, McGrady, Stuckey, and the others seemed to catch on as well? But their jobs, of course, are to circle the wagons, shut up and play.
Or is it? How many of us have been part of workplaces or other organizations that have been poorly or even unethically run? (I'm willing to bet that virtually every other teacher reading this just flashed upon any number of school administrators--generally the lowest form of life--and shuddered knowingly.) Did we all shut our mouths and trudge on like good soldiers? More importantly, is that what we should have done? At the urban district I taught in a few years ago, the district and campus administrators began playing games to make the data presentable. Too many absences for a student to receive credit? Well, if you simply show up for the state testing dates, we'll erase half of them! The school's drop out rate is too high? Well, if we hire someone to go to the homes of drop outs and get them to sign something that says either a) "I don't live here no more" or b) "Uh, I'm gonna get a GED, or something", they no longer count as "drop-outs"! Now, anyone with a shred of intelligence or actual commitment towards education and human development would recognize instantly, that these are examples of poorly run, unethical, and destructive administrators and the organization they represent.
How many of us would criticize the whistle blowers here, even if making public issue of these policies would reflect badly on "the team"? Of course, ideally those appalled by these self-deserving assaults upon children's need to be educated would be able to openly and publicly and repeatedly challenge the policies and institute change. But we know it doesn't work like this. Sometimes leaks to the press were in order. Sometimes seemingly petulant challenges to authority were the only means available. No doubt a lot of my public and behind the scenes attacks on the powers that be (I was a chief malcontent) were born of my own frustrations and arguably self-serving. But at the same time, "the team" deserved the attacks and the public scrutiny, and the pressure to change the inadequate status quo.
What is it about professional (and even college) athletes that means that such a statement does not apply?
On a related thread, I'll point to our favorite target for fan derision, Charlie V. Why do we hate him so? By most accounts, (twitter and otherwise...), he seems to be a reasonably nice guy. He doesn't seem dishonest or blatantly selfish. There aren't reports of him being a lousy teammate or overtly rude or disrespectful to those he encounters. The main source of our collective dislike for Charlie seems to be a sense that he doesn't work hard enough, that he's too light-hearted, that he spends too much of his energy tweeting and planking, that he's soft, that he doesn't have a killer instinct. And I'm wiling to go along with the idea that these are valid critiques and make him a less effective basketball player.
But let's return to the different standards that we have for athletes than for "real" people out there. What if I told you that I knew of a corporate exec who refused to make his job his life and who sacrificed possible promotions and even maximum profit of the company to spend time with his family? What if I told you of a factory worker who declined opportunities for overtime pay to focus on his artwork? What if I told you of a lawyer who focused some of her time and energy toward just being a nice and respectful person, even if this meant not devoting his all to her practice? What if I told you that, although I work hard, I regularly place personal interests ahead of achieving the absolute maximum results for my students, that I've consciously decided that my work is only one important aspect of my life, but that wife, soon-to-born child, friends, the Pistons, alcohol, and punk rock all take precedent more than occasionally?
My guess is that most would, in principle, excuse (and even sometimes laud) the examples above as evidence of people who see the bigger picture, and would consider all of these folks more healthy and more enjoyable to be around than their more driven colleagues. When the corporate exec works ninety hour weeks to the neglect of his family, we don't applaud. When the lawyer values a ten digit net worth over taking the time to be decent and humane to those she encounters, we tend to despise this person. And hell--to invoke a comparison of another spectator event--an established actor who decided that she wanted her life to be more than her career, and who doesn't push herself as hard in terms of numbers of projects taken on wouldn't tend to raise the ire of anyone reading this.
But the athlete who, like a machine, appears only to care about performing his professional duties? All of us admire and covet theis creature. Given a choice between an ineffectual sweetheart and a monstrous human being of an All-Star, we'd take the latter, (even if we'd want to claim otherwise).
Why this double standard? I think it goes back to the beginning of this post. Because that's how we "win". And only winning matters in this small, segmented area, the only part of our lives in which winning is truly a possibility.
And now your thoughts....