Organized sports is a positive influence on America’s youth, not because of those at the pinnacle of those sports, but in spite of them. Working as part of a team, learning that one’s limits are not immutable, the thrill of competition, the joy of winning, and the misery of losing; all of these are valuable.
Worship of entitled, overpaid, arrogant and out-of-touch professional athletes is not. Placing them at the pinnacle of the celebrity hierarchy has done nothing but harm. There are fewer than 4,000 professional athletes in the four major sports in America (I do not count European kickball as a major sport), so the probability of anyone rising to that level is vanishingly small, yet we have entire industries dedicated to the concept that with enough effort and money, anyone can do it.
And giving these monomaniacal athletes a voice in anything other than what sort of shoe is best for basketball or how to hit the inside pitch is a recipe for disaster. Very few of them took anything other than athletics seriously from a very young age; their studies were simply a trivial obstacle. These are men who probably can’t read and write very well, who have very little grasp of history or economics (and judging by their bankruptcy rate they probably can’t balance a checkbook!), yet their pontifications on a wide variety of important topics is taken seriously by a media devoid of critical thinking ability.
Worse than taking them seriously about matters in which they have no knowledge (most things besides their own sports), we have lost any perspective! These people are businessmen touting their own brands and industries. Protecting China from reasonable criticism of their business and social practices does nothing other than bolster the bottom line of their sports and their investments.
Nearly 30 years ago, in a 1993 Nike commercial, professional basketball legend Charles Barkley fired the first shot at the “role model” concept popularized by Columbia University sociologist Robert K. Merton in the aftermath of the 1960s counterculture movement. “I am not a role model,” Barkley proclaimed in the half-minute spot. “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
Barkley was correct then, and it has gotten much, much worse. Lebron James, whose fortune is partially based on Chinese slave labor, lectures America on how evil and racist it is…but “BUY MY SHOES!” His peers do the same, yet fly private jets across the world and are feted and treated like royalty wherever they go. When they are exposed to law enforcement it is most likely to be a 3:00am shooting outside of a club, beating the snot out of one of their girlfriends, or a drunk driving stop. And we are supposed to feel guilty that they are targeted by the police because of their color?
And perhaps worst of all, they have diminished the glory of sports by their sense of entitlement and their assumptions that they are in all ways superior. Some kid who idolizes one of the current crop of “superstars” and saves up to go to a game may discover when he arrives at the arena or stadium that his idol is taking the night off to rest. The message is clear: they are entitled to our money, but we are not entitled to an honest effort from them nor are we entitled to some respect for the effort that we put forth to make their lives so special.
The sad thing is that these athletes have a tremendous opportunity to do good. Imagine if they spoke as one and fought against the ghetto culture and lack of respect for human life that pervades so much of inner-city America? The dozen deaths they glorify are dwarfed by the thousands of innocents killed each year in the ghettos of America. Nobody knows those names; nobody is writing them on their helmets or jerseys; nobody cares. Because the shoes must be sold!