I Love Sports, But I am Learning To Hate Athletes

aaron-hernandez-innocentAbout a dozen years ago a local book store had Mike Lupica in to sell a few copies of his new book and answer some questions. I asked him whether he despaired for the future of professional sports because of the increasingly unpleasant personal behavior of the typical professional athlete. He was upbeat and sanguine, suggesting that they had always behaved badly, but we just hear about it more nowadays.

Now, that was Mike Lupica, who is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but it sounded good at the time.

And he was wrong.

There has developed, over the last generation, a disconnect between professional athletes and the people whom they entertain. I won’t pretend to understand all of the causes, but clearly the huge amount of money available to professional and college sports because of TV, marketing, better stadiums, etc has created the perfect storm. Athletes are at once more valuable to the teams, their agents, their families, their universities, and have unimaginable amounts of disposable income available to them. So the athletes have the money to behave badly, and the teams and the rest of the leeches have tremendous incentives to protect their cash cows.

Gone are the days when professional athletes were part of the culture. My father-in-law remembers the NY Giants (baseball) coming to his neighbor’s house for barbecues, and shooting hoops in the driveway with a few of them. I simply cannot imagine that happening now. They are insulated from those who pay them; with bodyguards, private parking, special escorts from the police, private jets, special entrances….you name it, they’ll do it to avoid us.

And the more they avoid us, the less connected they feel to the fans who try so hard to love them and cheer for them. Some pay lip service to their fans, and a few even genuinely appreciate the sacrifices that so many Americans make to watch their favorite teams in action. But the  majority of professional athletes, in particular the stars, have no interest in their fans and consider all contact with them to be a chore that is, unfortunately, mandated by their contracts.

So I have gradually lost interest in the players, and have embraced the beauty of the games. (Well, just one game. Baseball. It’s perfect in its symmetry and organic management of changing skills and athleticism). I can’t remember when last I knew the name of every New York Yankee. I just don’t care very much. But I watch the ballet of pitcher to batter to fielder and I am in awe of the design. I just need to find some players who don’t make $20,000,000, and don’t have utter and complete contempt for me and the game they play.


11 comments to “I Love Sports, But I am Learning To Hate Athletes”
  1. I blame Muhammad Ali for starting this. Now he was great and could back up his talk, but he really was the first one with this type of outlandish brashness that went pop culture.

    If you have Triple A ball near you, you can get that old fan – athlete dual appreciation again.

  2. The subdivision connected to mine actually houses a few former baseball players (current coaches) and apparently at one time housed a current player (before he was traded.)

    Wouldn’t know it because they don’t seem to ever appear. I’ve been told one is even in my parish, but unlike Stan Musial who used to hang out after mass and hand out signed baseballs from the trunk of his car, you never see them.
    That being said, not all experiences were bad. I was at fielding practice before one game standing at bleacher wall while the outfield took grounders and fly balls. They tossed every few up there to the kids (I was a kid at this time.) Some adult came down and reached out an snagged the ball the outfielder had clearly tried to throw to little girl next to me and the outfielder called up “hey, that’s not for you. Give it back or I’ll come up and make you give it back.”
    Now we could say “Man what behavior.” But honestly, who’s worse, the player who’s just trying to make a kid happy or the jackass who jumped in front of a 5 year old to steal a souviner.

  3. Hmmm…tough one, don’t know, trying to go back in my memory, Rodman, Gastineau, Bozworth? All symptoms of the same Dion Sanders disease.

    Maybe you and I have get off my lawn disease, but I really don’t put Namath or Staubach or the great Dolphin team anywhere near those guys.

    The problem as you indicate is a huge celebration for a common sack or an average play disconnect. Drives me crazy. Lets blame Christian Laettner.

  4. Didn’t there used to be morals clauses and such in the contracts? People expected better behavior in the old days, and the athletes had to deliver it. Now we expect poor behavior, and the athletes are happy to deliver that.

  5. I think it is a side effect of celebrity culture, combined with the huge amount of attention given to sports now. When I was a kid, TV sports was 2-3 games on the weekend of whatever sport was in season and a few boxing matches and bowling shows. Now you’ve got several sports networks going 24×7, and big money going with it.

    Only the biggest superstars (Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, Mantle) were “celebrities”. But now a benchwarmer for a last place team is an individual of more accomplishment than, say, Kim Kardashian.

  6. Now we could say “Man what behavior.”

    Sounds like excellent behavior to me. On the outfielder’s part. On the adult fan’s part, not so much.

  7. Word. I don’t normally condone violence, but this guy (the fan) needed an ass whooping.

    And…it worked. The player didn’t have to scale the wall, the fan quickly handed the ball back and ran the heck out of there.
    I mean FFS, it was as fielding practice ball, not a record setting home run ball.

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