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Sports fans know their politics
Posted: Wed April 22, 1998
It has seemed very surprising that the president's job-approval rating has remained high, even as so many people despair for not his character and deportment. But, really, sports fans have been able to make that same decision about their heroes and, as the bumper stickers say: I'M A SPORTS FAN AND I VOTE.
Maybe it has always been so. Oh yes, maybe there is just more lip service paid nowadays to the premise that athletes have come to disappoint us, whereas once they uplifted us. But fans learned long ago to divide athletes as people, to bifurcate them, so that performance on the field could be neatly separated from performance off the field.
In a world today where political leaders are foremost stars, why should we be surprised if we deal emotionally any differently with elected celebrities than with halfbacks or shortstops?
Certainly, fans are conflicted and not true to the feelings they express. What you constantly hear is that too many athletes are scum and they're all overpaid. And yet the reality is that fans continue to follow sports in unprecedented numbers, paying higher and higher ticket prices. Those people who swore they would never go to another baseball game after the strike ended have, evidently, most all returned to the loges and luxury boxes.
It is also a fascinating example of human nature that, whereas the public vociferously decries the salaries paid athletes, there always rents the heavens a great roar of protest when it appears that my team is about to lose a player because some other team is willing to pay him even more profligately. Basically, what we see now is that every player in every sport is overpaid except the players on my team. This is somehow consonant with all the polls that show that the public despises Congressonly incumbents win about 98% of the time. That is: All of Congress is dreadful except for my own representative.
Likewise, despite this great expressed public disgust about the misbehavior of players, there is a wonderful benevolence afoot when it comes to the scoundrels who wear my team's uniform. Led by coaches like Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State, who has peopled his roster with unvarnished thugs, the rationale is one of unbridled forgiveness. Hey, in America, everybody deserves a second chance. Why, to deny anyone a chance to play perpetually now is downright un-American. Certainly, the hardy old concept that playing on a team is a privilege to be earned has been replaced by the assumption that participation in athletics is an inviolate right.
The only time we rise up in a consensus of sanctimonious condemnation is when some certified bad boy is trying to get into the tent. Ah, then everybody suddenly finds scruples and indignation. This NFL draft, the scapegoat was one Randy Moss, a wide receiver from Marshall, with a rap sheet to match his stats. Moss was generally ranked as no lower than the fifth-best talent in the draft, and teams like the Dallas Cowboys lusted after him. But inviting a rogue onto your team draws the moral ire of the same pious fans who make exceptions for the criminals already wearing their colors. Moss finally was drafted 21st by Minnesota where, now that he is in hometown purple, he will, no doubt, receive many second chances.
The generous spirit of the land today is that politicians and players alike may be bums. But they are our bums.
These commentaries, which appear each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, are posted weekly by CNN/SI.
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