- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Moreover, there is utter confusion in the matter of financial reward. It is no coincidence that the public generally believes that our pros make too much money and our synthetic amateurs (college players) not enough. Pros and amateurs can no longer be distinguished from each other because they're both on the same networks and subjected to the same hype.
By the same token, in this world of gladiators, what is wrong with taking pills or injections or putting somebody else's blood inside you if that will help you win? The early and total devotion to a sport encourages the advance-at-any-cost syndrome. Blood doping or anabolic steroids are just like spring football or lifting weights.
Surely, not even Avery Brundage could have denied that sports are entertainment. On the other hand, it is certainly not valid to claim that sports are the same as other forms of entertainment. The prime difference has to do with loyalty. Now, to be sure, there are devoted fans of Clint Eastwood who will buy tickets for whatever dreadful movie he makes. The continuing success of soap operas or rock stars is based on a devout following. But sports go beyond that with the home team, the favorite player, the favorite sport. Sports involve, or should involve, a rooting interest.
At one time sports fans were loyal to a fault. The same penurious owners owned the same teams, which were peopled by players who were, as the rhetoric had it, slaves. At the college level, players were a homogeneous and indigenous lot, the boys next door.
All of this has been turned on its ear. One of the most successful franchises of our generation, the Boston Celtics, has had four owners in the past seven years. A man from Skokie bought the Baltimore Colts and jerked Johnny Unitas's franchise to Indianapolis. Professional players vow they owe no allegiance to anything or anyone unless it is specified in the fine print. Why is it that so many of the blue-chip college recruits are from out of state and show up on campus driving new Trans Ams?
It was one thing when our homegrown sports star was drunk and disorderly or got caught with his hand in the till or his bare bottom in the sorority house. It's quite another thing when the same human frailties are exhibited by some transient. The fabric of belonging that makes a devout fan feel as if he is an honorary member of the team has been frayed. It is hard to forgive, harder still to love, a stranger.
In this context, it would be naive, even evasive, to ignore the impact of the black athlete, especially on those two college sports that are horribly, candidly identified as "revenue sports," i.e., football and basketball. At one time the issue of race in sports was simply what it was everywhere else, one of discrimination. Now the situation is altogether different. In our major team sports, specifically the two that give many schools and colleges their greatest recognition, black players predominate.
It is worth pondering how this situation has affected the white attitude. In very round figures, we have a situation where 12% of the population is contributing 70% of the best players to the NBA and the NFL. This means that the chances of a white schoolboy reaching the heights in basketball or football are many times poorer than that of a black youngster. What does this do to the white psyche—to that athletic component of the American Dream? On the surface, whites denigrate themselves for their slowness and inability to levitate, the debilitating "white man's disease." But is it also possible to postulate that the rowdiness, even the violence, that has increased in stadiums—and most times committed by young white men—may be partially explained by the fact that these young whites feel the same frustrations and disenfranchisement within the sports arena that young blacks feel outside of it?
What the preponderance of black athletes in such spotlighted sports does for the black community may also be damaging, because it encourages young blacks to invest their hopes in sports. University of California sociology professor Harry Edwards has pointed out that the total number of blacks who earn a living in sports is perhaps 2,500. That includes everyone—from stable grooms to O.J. Simpson and Ralph Sampson. Better you should play the lottery. Beyond that is the fact that many college coaches recruit academically unprepared black students as athletes and then hide them in joke curricula—Theory of Volleyball I, Advanced Television Dialing. The athletes not only become academic throwaways when they don't make the pros, but they often also present a dim and dull aspect to the public, thereby perpetuating the impression that blacks are dumb.