How disgraceful that Americans overpay schoolteachers, glorify social workers and lavish attention on stay-at-home mothers while giving scant money, publicity or deference to the people who really deserve it—namely, our Super Bowl champions. "Disrespect was the theme of the Rams' camp this year," reports the Associated Press. "Ask any player and he'll say the team was ignored in the off-season."
"There's a certain amount of disrespect," agrees rookie Rams coach Mike Martz, inexplicably bereft of a book contract or genius grant.
Says The Kansas City Star of this veneration vacuum: "You could call it disrespect."
Damn right it's disrespect, and the Rams aren't the only ones getting dissed this year. "I deserve a lot more respect than I'm getting," says unsigned Heat guard Tim Hard-away, who was paid $4.8 million last season. "I've got to look out for Tim Hardaway and Tim Hardaway's family."
The truth is, we don't properly esteem any of our top athletes. College football champ Florida State? " Florida State bears a grudge of disrespect," notes The Salt Lake Tribune. "The [preseason] polls relegated the Seminoles to the lowly spot of No. 2." Runner-up Virginia Tech? "The critics," reports The Boston Globe, "disrespected them." Ninth-ranked Florida? "It's disrespect to us as a whole," says senior Alex Willis, referring to the Gators' unjustly unheralded wide receiver corps.
When will we, as Americans, stop fawning over doctors and nurses and recognize the vital contributions of the Illinois defense? ("Senior linebacker Michael Young," reports the Daily Illini, "said the defense will make the best of the disrespect.") When will this nation stop glamorizing engineers and start appreciating the New Mexico offense? ("All that disrespect," says Lobos tackle Jon Samuelson, "is a challenge to us.") Why won't a single magazine, television network or sneaker company acknowledge the athletic skills of Raptors swingman Vince Carter and fill the hole in his self-esteem that evidently opened when he was—according to an article last week in The Toronto Star—"disrespected by members of [Tracy] McGrady's family and entourage..."?
Society has come to a sorry pass when an NBA All-Star is not given props by his own cousin's entourage. But that's hardly surprising, because nobody in North America believes in, roots for or supports our elite athletes, save elite athletes. "Nobody thought we could do it last year," says Rams defensive tackle Nate Hob-good-Chittick of the NFL title. "But we just believed in ourselves."
"Nobody thought we could do it," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, of winning the Super Bowl (which they barely lost). "[But] we thought we could."
Yet these proud warriors, surrounded by no-men and ill-wishers, constantly prove us wrong. They're the Little Engines That Could. "Nobody gave us a chance to be where we are at this point," Rockies reliever Gabe White said when Colorado miraculously occupied first place 12 weeks into this season.
"Nobody gave us a chance to do much of anything," said Karl Malone, whose Jazz didn't do much of anything in the NBA playoffs, but that misses the point. The point is this: You must respect a man of Karl Mal-one's stature. When 40-year-old Tim Raines, cut last month from the U.S. Olympic baseball team, said "a man of my stature" deserved better treatment, I was struck again by how shabbily we treat pro athletes, and a wave of shame washed over me.