On an icy Saturday morning, I rode with a friend of mine to his cousin’s basketball game. It was to be nothing more than a time-waster before my team took the court for our GABL game. Soon, though, I realized that there was a lot to learn from the scene in front of me, even if many needed help lacing up their Keds.
Absent of trash-talking and obnoxious celebration, this matchup of six-year-olds included a cheerleading squad that rooted for both teams. There were no selfish players looking to pad their stats or their rep; one player was even generous enough to score for the other team (albeit accidentally). And, unlike the 2004 Pistons-Pacers brawl, the only reason a player ran into the stands was to show her damaged ankle to her parents.
The scenes from this game were a refreshing contrast from the attitudes that are evident in today’s sports world. Greed and a complete lack of common sense have become all too commonplace from the players I once looked up to. We as sports fans have become so jaded by the recent swing of idiocy by professional athletes and coaches that we have forgotten why we love sports. The three-foot tall athletes in that crowded church gym reminded me what sports should be about.
It’s about meshing as a team towards a common goal. Someone should tell that to Gilbert Arenas, who allegedly brandished a pistol to settle a gambling dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton.
The most memorable sports games are the ones like the one I saw, where the players played because they legitimately wanted to succeed and have fun doing it. The kids loved every air ball, every traveling call and every foul, because they got a smile from their parent and a pat on the back from their coach. Some of the players on the bench even stumbled over the sidelines because they were so excited at the successes and failure of their teammate. Perhaps San Francisco 49ers superstar receiver Michael Crabtree should have been sitting next to me and taking notes. Crabtree sat out the first five games of his season over a contract dispute. I’m sure his teammates love him!
Most importantly, sports allow us to see the reward of hard work and dedication. The only hard work today’s baseball sluggers do is control their roid rage. The contest I was able to witness featured a quartet of coaches, all fathers of players, that attempted to get their teams to play well, but also the right way. They urged the kids not to yell at the refs and to play fair. This theme of playing fair hardly carries over to the professional baseball diamond, in which historical records and glory are side effects of cheating. Barry Bonds is mired in all sorts of allegations over steroid usage, and he is the one in command of the home run record, the most hallowed statistic in all of sports. Alex Rodriguez admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, and just nine months later, he was the toast of New York City after he helped lead the Yankees to the World Series crown.
This lack of accountability in today’s athletes is appalling, and it is the fault of fans like us for continuing to reward this behavior with second, third and fourth chances. The only way to get the attitude and actions of the players to mirror that of the munchkins in the church gym is if we make these athletes feel a sense of wrongdoing for their actions, and the only place these spoiled phenoms can be hurt is in their wallet.
That’s why everyone with the authority to make a change in the back pocket of these prima donnas should do just that. Harsh fines should be imposed by league commissioners when the athletes are intent upon making far above the league average. Lengthy suspensions can be used during issues of misconduct; this could include set-in-stone precedents that define the suspension length when a certain crime is committed or league policy is violated.
However, it’s not just the elite authority figures that can impact the income of undeserving professional athletes. We, a nation of sports fans, can stop buying tickets. We can stop going to games. We can stop purchasing jerseys. And, perhaps most importantly, we can stop heaping lavish praise onto those that don’t deserve it.
Today’s professional athletes do not deserve the rewards they get for playing a simple game until they realize they must return to playing the way they did on their rise to the top. Back when they were kids, they played with a passion for the sport that was coupled with a dream for making it to the pros. They did not complain about the amount of time they got the ball. They did not sit out of games for a contract dispute. And they did not always score for the right team, just like the kindergartners from the crowded church gym.