Unhealthy emphasis on victories will eventually hurt America's youth
Posted: Thursday September 16, 2004 11:59AM; Updated: Thursday September 16, 2004 1:49PM
Lyle Alzado spoke out extensively about the damage steriods did to him.
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If anybody thinks the recent purge of performance-enhancing drug users from the Olympic rolls will have a positive long-term impact on America's sporting community, he had better take a look at a survey just released by California-based non-profit Josephson Institute of Ethics. More than 4,200 high school athletes completed questionnaires on topics ranging from the value of winning versus exercising good sportsmanship, to whether they have used or would consider it appropriate to use steroids or other illegal substances to gain an edge.
Many won't be surprised by the fact that girls are far less likely than boys to cheat, engage in illegal or unethical behavior to gain an edge or use anything that would give them an unfair advantage. But some of the boys' responses were scary and prove that there is a growing conviction that those who just train diligently, compete hard and play fair are suckers. Winners do whatever it takes. Losers play by the rules. If sports are a metaphor for other things in our society (and few can dispute they are), the results indicate that American youth is growing more cynical and less insistent on fair play.
37% of boys believed that it's more important to win than be considered a good sport. 56% of males believe that successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating. 43% believed a person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed. 51% believe a coach should argue with an official in order to intimidate or influence future calls. 42% believe it is OK to use a stolen playbook of another team. 43% admitted to having cheated or bent the rules to win.
If the survey's results don't scare you, then it's time to reconsider your entire approach to athletics. With percentages like this, what happens when these high schoolers reach college and beyond? The price we may ultimately pay for a culture which glorifies winning above everything else is a generation which believes anything goes. How have we reached a point where many high school athletes don't think it's wrong to steal another team's playbook? What possesses somebody to cheat to win -- at age 16 or 17?
The answer isn't an easy one and it has more to do with sociological theory than a whole room of pointy heads could dredge up. But it isn't at all off-base to examine what adults consider important in athletics.
When we scream for a college coach's head after too few wins, even if his kids are graduating and staying off America's Most Wanted, we tell our children clearly that it's a bottom-line life. Win or head to the broadcast booth for career rehabilitation. When we berate a player who performs poorly, we tell our kids that athletes are expected to excel always, a human impossibility. In order to chase that perfection, athletes must find an edge -- even if it's a banned substance that could eventually damage their liver or shrink their testicles. Forget about the future. Win now.
Say all you want about how much the media and TV and corrupt politicians contribute to all this, but we as parents, coaches and mentors owe our children more than a win-or-else view of sports, and therefore, society. The sooner we realize the result of Sunday's game matters far less than whether its participants competed ethically, the sooner we'll be helping to prepare our children to succeed honorably in life.
The results are in. The next step is up to us.
A world of hurt
The "good news" in Green Bay Tuesday was that defensive lineman Grady Jackson will only miss three or four games with a knee injury suffered early in the Pack's win over Carolina Monday night. The 350-pounder and his run-stuffing girth will be back in time to help Team Cheese make its playoff push. Good thing, too, because his backup, Cullen Jenkins, looks like he needs a couple months on the Gilbert Brown burger diet.
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Jackson will be back this year, unlike several of his NFL compadres, who went down for good in Week 1 with a wide assortment of catastrophic damage. It was a sobering reminder of the sport's unforgiving nature and a cautionary tale for fans who believe talent and coaching are the main ingredients in a good season.
The carnage from just one game is significant. Gone for the year are Philadelphia guard Shawn Andrews (broken leg), Tennessee guard Zach Piller (ruptured biceps), Detroit receiver Charles Rogers (broken collarbone), all starters. Carolina receiver Steve Smith (broken leg) could be finished for all of '04. Key reserves Omar Stoutmire, a Giants safety (torn ACL) and Minnesota cornerback Ken Irvin (ruptured Achilles) are also done. Add those to the long list of players who suffered serious injuries during the NFL's money-grubbing preseason, and you can see the need for those practice squad rosters.
The message in all of this is clear: Big NFL success is as much about depth and good luck as it is about talent and great coaching. No matter how high your expectations are or how early your players show up for meetings, without good reinforcements and pockets full of four-leaf clovers, you aren't winning it all. Every time they drive that awful cart onto the field to bring off another wounded player, a team's odds drop to levels even Jeremy Roenick wouldn't touch. So, cheer that home team on, but you better keep your fingers crossed while you do it -- or hope for some of Grady Jackson's "luck." He'll be back in four weeks.
And maybe he won't need knee replacement surgery in 20 years.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: One week after declaring Rutgers football back on the national scene, following a win over Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights lost to I-AA New Hampshire and it's fourth-string QB. It's a good thing RU alum JamesGandolfini wasn't in attendance for that one, as he was for the win over the Spartans, or he might have sent Silvio Dante over to take coach Greg Schiano for a drive through the Pine Barrens. Another black eye for the Small East, a BCS sham if there ever was one. ... It's official: NHL owners have locked the players out, and a long work stoppage looms. Whatever will they do in Nashville, Atlanta and Miami without hockey? Get ready for a long layoff, as if anybody carezzzzzzzzz. ... If promos are any indication, ESPN's Pete Rose biopic Hustle ought to be called Run, as in "run from the TV when it airs."
AND ANOTHER THING: The good news is that Chris Rix still has a job and 10 games to get back on the Heisman track. Aw, who the hell is El Hombre kidding? Against Miami last Friday, Rix made Kurt Warner's stumblebum performance against the Giants in the '03 NFL opener look graceful. Rix couldn't handle the Hurricane pressure, dissolved as the game became tighter and generally looked like he wanted to get out of town in overtime. Rix now needs a miraculous run to redemption just to erase the gory details of his five swan dives against the 'Canes. While we're at it, let's not forget his teammates, who cramped up so often in the Miami swelter they looked like some cold-weather bunch from Minnesota in need of a team-wide Midol dosing. Isn't Tallahassee in Florida, too? The NFL can keep drafting as many Miami players as it wants, and it won't matter. The Hurricanes own FSU.