“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” John Wooden, the man Sporting News named “the greatest coach of all time,” said in reference to the perseverance and internal fortitude it took to win the hard games. For me, however, this quote also serves as a reminder that while tough games can reveal character on the playing field, court or rink, true character is just as important when not in uniform. This article is essentially my lamentation of the loss of the pureness of sports to me once the “human element” became involved.
I’m 20 years old, and 16 of those years have been spent fully obsessed with sports. One of my earliest memories is when I was four years old and made sure that my parents recorded a New York Islanders game (despite being a Devils fan with no interest in the Islanders), just so that I could have something to watch the next day. I truthfully cannot think of a single day in the past seven years of my life where I didn’t watch a sporting event, play a sports video game, or spend a couple of hours brooding over the right moves to make on my fantasy team. And, up until recently, sports have been held to the highest regard in my mind, something pure that was a perfect outlet for all of my emotions.
It has only been in the last couple of years that I was able to open my mind up to the “human side” of sports, and the last couple of months that I was able to see the darker side of what that is. When I was younger, I wanted so badly to be the next Martin Brodeur or Derek Jeter. In my mind, these players would wake up, practice their sport, play in the game, and then go home and go to sleep. There was no social life, there was no personality – there were no character flaws. To me, they were just sports stars as they would be in a video game. They would do their jobs and then not be thought about again until the next game.
Of course, deep down I probably knew that this wasn’t true, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school when I first made the varsity baseball team that I realized that all of these star athletes were just people like everyone else. I began to realize that many players on the Yankees some personality traits that corresponded to the different players on my team. I finally began to see these stars as just people – who just happened to be really good at their sport. But, unfortunately, not all people should be rooted for or lauded with praise just because they can throw a perfect spiral or hit a baseball 400 plus feet.
It seems I’ve been discovering this a lot more recently. I have trouble watching the NBA without thinking about how greedy, power hungry and self-centered the majority of the best players come across. It seems like the days of players doing what’s best for their team and teammates is gone, and the days of doing whatever it takes to improve their next contract or to get individual praise from the fans and media have replaced them. This isn’t true, obviously, with all players, but the LeBrons and Carmelos of the league have begun to ruin the NBA for me.
In Major League Baseball, PEDs have made it difficult for me to watch elite players perform without some constant suspicion. Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball that literally went out of the Dodger’s stadium on Tuesday night, and my first thought was if he was taking steroids. Each new record broken or astonishing feat that takes place is marred by the possibility that it was done with the aid of an illegal substance. Basically, that it was done by cheating.
Cheating obviously is not something that is restricted just to MLB (although they have cornered the market for year), as it’s been a hot topic of discussion for the entire week in the NFL. I am not going to get into my thoughts about the recent punishments handed down for “DeflateGate,” but I will say that it is impossible to convince me that Tom Brady didn’t cheat. As a Jets fan I have never rooted for Brady, but I have always had the utmost respect for him. I’ve always thought that he went about things in the “right way,” but this current scandal has now convinced me I was wrong about that too.
Maybe the most disturbing part to me are the other players and media members saying that Brady shouldn’t have been punished so harshly, because “everybody bends the rules a little bit.” It was only Brady that got caught. This is not a reassuring sentiment to me. I don’t want to think I’m watching a bunch of “cheaters” each Sunday – I want to watch a bunch of guys doing things the right way while respecting the game and its history.
I am not writing this all to say that I will never watch sports again. Far from it. In fact, I still plan on being somehow involved with sports every day after I graduate, and my ultimate goal is to be a sports talk radio host. I’m just saying that I have begun to watch sports in a new light. I will not be able to cheer when Greg Hardy records a sack or Adrian Peterson rushes for a touchdown. I am unable to enjoy the pitching success of Bartolo Colon or Ryan Braun’s hitting prowess.
Instead of just viewing these players as one-dimensional athletes that play for my favorite teams, I am forcing myself to remember that they too are just people, albeit blessed with an inordinate amount of talent. And I’m choosing to root for the players who are not only talented, but are also doing things the right way.