Eyes on Sports
Nothing has changed
by Greg Koabel
Recent events in Washington have left many in North America wondering, is sports still worth believing in? In my mind, the more pertinent question is, why have we believed in sports so passionately in our society for over a century now? The apparent lack of integrity in sports figures at the dawn of the 21st century is nothing new.
Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire are not the first baseball players to testify under oath amid scandal. What about Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pete Rose and remember when faith in baseball was destroyed by the rampant cocaine use in the 1980s? Well, apparently, we don’t remember because here we are destroying faith in baseball all over again 15 to 20 years later. Commentators seem to conveniently forget about past indiscretions by athletes when they paint us a lovely picture of a perfect nostalgic past before greed and corruption crept into the modern game.
A favourite point to make is that exorbitant salaries have ruined sports forever by spoiling athletes. No longer do players play out of love for the game. These people point to athletes in the past, who respected the game and would never taint it with the vices of greed or cheating. But I think what is often mistaken for pure love of the game is simple desperation.
Athletes in the past played hard for less, not because they loved the game so much more than today’s sportsmen, but because if they didn’t play they would be fired. If it makes you feel better about yourself to watch desperate and exploited men ply their trade on the field, then buy a time machine.
I admire early athletes for their dedication and ability to put up with a tremendous amount of adversity, but to romanticize it to the point where that situation is preferred to today’s seems silly.
The idea that today’s players are somehow morally beneath the heroes of ages past smacks of empty nostalgia as well. It would be a scary world indeed if men like Ty Cobb were a shining example of decency for today’s athlete to follow. Athletes letting us down have been ingrained into our society since sports were professionalized. “Say it ain’t so, Joe” has been the rallying cry of children let down by their supposed heroes in the sports industry since 1919. To suggest what is happening in 2005 is any different from this long tradition is clearly wrong-headed.
So, why the outrage if this has all happened before? For the answer to that I return to my point about generations. Ours is just beginning to grow up. The steroid scandal and all other stories accompanying it is merely our generation’s Black Sox or cocaine scandal. It is the point where we all realize that athletes are not gods. They are human beings, just like our parents or teachers or anyone else in society who remain perfectly good role models despite their flaws. I am convinced that sports have the same ratio of heroes and villains as any other of the population.
I still firmly believe in sports. But the kind of trust I am referring to is not the wide-eyed admiration of an eight-year-old. Rather, it is the same way we believe in all other institutions in our lives, with the discerning and critical eye of an educated human being. For every Pete Rose there is a Roberto Clemente, for every Barry Bonds there is a Craig Biggio or Greg Maddux. Heroes can be found on the baseball diamond, just be sure you look beyond how far they can hit a ball.