Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Wonderful World of Diversions

I remember spending a lot of time during my childhood watching sports. I could spend hours reading the entire sports section of the newspaper, devouring any and all news and statistics that I could get my hands on. It was a diversion from the mundane details of going to school, dealing with chores, and the other things that kids normally dealt with. I spent many a day in my backyard dreaming of what it would be like to play professionally, and dreaming of making the big catch or throwing the winning pass. I don't know of anybody that didn't have similar daydreams to this, because it offered us a release from the dreary details to a supposedly wonderful life of money and influence.
Over the years, the diversions that sports offered have been shoved out of the way by the realities of life in general. Because of the money involved, everything takes on a greater importance and situations get blown out of proportion over one great play or missed call. Marketing makes sure that every bit of what we watch is sponsored and crafted in such a way to draw attention to what the ad wizards want you to see. We all know about the salaries that athletes make, the pressures they deal with, the temptations they face, and despite all of that, there aren't many people that wouldn't trade their lives with their favorite athlete for even just one day.
I try to keep as much perspective on things as I can, trying to believe that sports results aren't the end of the world. I do take losses for my favorite teams better than I have, because I realize that the sun comes up the next day and there's always the thought of next year and the next plan. It's part of the wonderful rebirth that happens in sports each year when the season starts anew, and everyone can put out the optimism that it might finally be their team's year. While the economics of the situation may actually prevent that from happening, there's always surprises every year, as one team does better than they should while a beloved team falls apart for some mystery reason. Yet, fans keep that optimism going as much as they can, because that's what fans do. They remain loyal as best they can because the good times are worth waiting for, and the bad times aren't nearly as bad as they might appear.
And that bit of perspective remains hard to keep in mind when the realities continue to rear their ugly head, because life doesn't slow down for anything. The sports pages used to be about statistics and stories about upcoming games, now they cover as much legal news and analysis as many legal publications. The personal problems of athletes get trotted out all the time to be put on display, and fans spend countless hours debating the merits of an ethical dilemma because it's no longer enough to know a player's statistics, but you need to know more about a player's personal life than ever before. And the press will find things out because things have a way of coming out even if you don't want them to.
Tiger Woods had a very carefully crafted image as a wonderful guy and an incredible competitor, and with the news of his marital problems, the entire thing has come crashing down around him. He's apologized for the issue, and simply disappeared, which is amazing for a guy that for many months was everywhere. You couldn't avoid seeing something he was pitching, and now he's another guy dealing with a marital problem. Marriages in general have a 50% success rate, yet because there is a situation involving infidelity, a supposedly happy family situation and the world's best golfer, and suddenly, you can't avoid hearing news about it no matter where you go.
It's part of the cycle of the media to build up heroes on pedestals then chronicle their success or failure to give all of us a ringside seat to watch everything unfold. Although I don't think that is entirely true, because for every guy or gal that has their life fall apart, there's plenty that keep their noses clean and remain out of the public eye as much as athletes can. It's just more compelling to watch someone who seems to have it all going on for themselves suddenly face the same temptations and issues we all deal with. I can't imagine what it's like to hit a golf ball 300 yards in a straight line on demand, but I can relate to the dynamics of marriage. I've had to face a lot of my own personal shortcomings in dealing with things face on, and some of those issues I've dealt with better than most. I used to think that loving someone more than anything was enough to get you through all issues, and I've learned that sometimes that isn't nearly enough. You may love someone, but if you can't communicate what's going on with you or how you feel about something, none of that matters. And while I'm not dealing with anything as remotely intense as what Woods is dealing with, I can say that I've never worked as hard for something as much as I have with this, much less dealing with most of the world watching your every move.
But to say that's the entire media cycle is very short sighted because I think they report on what's most interesting and try to maintain a semblance of balance. That's rather hard to do because some things just end up with more attention for whatever reason. They report on what's compelling, interesting and relevant and nothing draws a good story like a heartwarming story of redemption, rebirth or success or a tale of complete destruction and mayhem. It's like the two ends of a bell curve when it comes to attention, and that's why we spend lots of time talking about Woods and less time about the guys that are doing things right. We talk about franchises running themselves into the ground like the Raiders NFL side or the troubles of the Trail Blazers, yet the wonderful story of the rebirth of the Saints has been relatively ignored by most of the nation. I think this is because of one very simple reason - it's hard to get attention unless you do something completely amazing or devastating. We aren't as interested in the status quo, but give us the thrill of winning and the agony of dreams crashing around us and we just can't stop talking about it.
Nothing proves this more that the death today of Chris Henry, a football player that was supremely talented but troubled. The man made more news in the early part of his career getting into and out of trouble, getting suspended for many transgressions. He was recently resigned by the Bengals and was rehabbing himself from injury when he got invovled in a domestic dispute yesterday and sustained injuries falling out of a moving truck. He died earlier this morning, and we're subjected to numerous stories about his life, his career, and the incident itself. It's incredibly tragic, and nobody should have to lose their life like this, but I'm also asking myself would we be talking about this guy if he was just another 26 year old guy living anywhere in the world. Henry is famous for his ability to catch a football, and suddenly his situation takes on a whole other set of circumstances and attention. It's nice to see that he had been working on fixing the issues from his past, but at the same point, none of us truly know when our time is up and what might happen. The media will continue to report on Henry's death, giving us every angle, every story, every thought when right now, our thoughts should be with his team, his family and friends as they deal with the situation.
But it's part of a fan's desire to pull the curtain down and know these athletes more closely and try to humanize them as much as possible. Trust me, the situations with Henry and Woods have reminded me more than anything that these people are human, just like us. They might be able to run faster, throw harder and do things the rest of us can only imagine, but they also deal with the certainties of life just like the rest of us.

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