Friday, October 8, 2010

What is wrong with the world of sports? Probably not as much as you think.

There's always been a debate about athletes and their obligation to be figures of admiration to their fans. Athletes sometimes crumble at the paralyzing expectations of being a hero or having their mistakes beamed to all parts of the world all the time, but at the same time, some of them also thrive at being the center of attention. I've always heard that marketing types say no publicity is bad regardless of how it's obtained, and there's plenty of people that put that theory to test every day. Get famous by eating a plate of bugs or some other disgusting task? Yup, there's a group in society that will do whatever to obtain attention and they have no shame. And with some athletes obsessed about endorsement deals, their future after sports, and their Q factor, it's no wonder that some of them go to any length to keep their names in the news cycle.
What becomes of this obsessive cycle of attention is trying to stay one step ahead of the impending doom with any tools necessary. Get caught in a compromising situation, turn it into a war of semantics about whatever it was the accusation is because it's probably their word versus the famous person. Some athletes have gotten more attention for their exploits outside their field of play from the famous affairs or landslide of allegations of trouble, and so they turn to the land of spin doctors to try and play the word game. Seriously, debating the meaning of what "is" means is one of the stupidest tactics I could think of to deflect attention, but at the same time, it only matters if it really works. I'm curious to see whether this tainted meat excuse in cycling actually works for disproving a positive drug test.
I used to admire plenty of professional athletes for their performances and think what it might be like to do the same thing on the field of play. I don't know of anyone that hasn't thought of the same thing at a point, because I can't imagine a more powerful feeling than completing a task well in front of millions and instantly becoming recognized for something. And with this comes the hero worship for being able to throw a ball better, kick it farther, run faster, tackle better, whatever the skill is. 
None of the really personal stuff matters to some that hero worship. The athlete could be a complete jerk to his family and friends, cheating on his or her marriage or going through significant substance problems, but if he or she leads their team to victory or they win some prestigious award, there's some that will love them no matter what. It must be nice to have such deep worship for something or someone else to be able to look past faults or the humanity of another person to simply put them as a hero above all else, but that's how some of this works.
Why do you think that some disgraced heroes still try and remain in the limelight? The golfer with numerous affairs who shall remain nameless still has thousand of fans who love him because he can hit a golf ball better than most of us. It doesn't matter to them that he's effectively destroyed his family, caused damage to the emotional psyche of those closest to him, and may not completely understand the complete scope of his actions, but there's still those that worship him.
That's the odd part of following sports, because in some cases, it's hard to explain why we gravitate towards certain players as the source of our attention. I followed Steve Garvey for many years as a kid, because he was a wonderful baseball player and I always wanted to play first base in baseball. It didn't matter that I wasn't all that talented on the ball field, I just gravitated towards him because I admired his ability to hit a baseball. As I grew up, I learned more about his character and some of the transgressions of his later career. If I had thought about it long and hard, I might have chosen a different player to follow, but I hit middle school and my attention focused on other sports.
Kids change their minds about what they want to be when they grow up all the time, and as such, the focus of their hero worship modifies itself over time as their interests change. It's a reality of life, and when it's time to talk to my kids about heroes, I'm prepared to be honest with them about public figures. It's OK to admire people for what they can do on a sports field or on a stage, and it's even great if that inspires you to want to try to emulate the same craft.
But at the same time, those people aren't any different than anybody else, even with their superior talents. While they can sometimes do amazing things on the field, they still have the same frailties as we all do. They cry, they bleed, they feel pain, they deal with the same emotions we all do, and real heroes not only rise above the challenges to accomplish what they do, but they admit when they can't handle something and ask for help from others. Nobody is an island, despite what we all might think, and it's the work of many that allows some to get some individual glory. It's great to have heroes in athletics, too, but at the same point, there are many that work in other professions that deserve attention for their efforts. It starts with a simple thank you and making sure to help others when they help you. That's what being a real hero is all about.

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