Monday, December 15, 1997

Week of 12/15/1997

Target: Professional Sports
Sprewell’s attack just tip of iceberg
- by David Matthews 2

Riddle me this, online readers - what would happen to you if you threatened and physically attacked your boss? How long do you think it would take before you’d end up in jail? How long before you got the pink slip? And what do you think your chances of working would be if your potential employers knew that you attacked your former boss?

Odds are, you and I would be in jail faster than you can say "CALL JOHNNY COCHRAN!" You’d get bailed just in time to get your pink slip from work. And if your antics make the media, guaranteed any potential employer would consider you like they would toxic waste.

Unless, that is, you’re Latrell Sprewell, formerly of the Golden State Warriors. His attack on the team’s coach may have earned him a pink slip from the Warriors, but the NBA is only considering a one-year suspension. But even that is not acceptable to Sprewell, who let loose Johnny "I can get anyone off" Cochran on the NBA on the claim that his punishment was racially motivated.

I’m not a huge sports fan, that much is certain. Sure, I’ve been to the occasional Braves game in the old Fulton County Stadium, and once you’ve been spoiled by box seating, you don’t want to settle for anything less even in a new post-Olympic stadium. And every year, my parents and I head to the Georgia Dome to see the Atlanta Falcons take on the New Orleans Saints. And sure, I’ll watch the Super Bowl and maybe the World Series, depending on which teams make it. But when it comes to sports, I’ve been long jaded to its lure, which probably explains why it bothers me to no extent to see sports figures who make millions of dollars act like spoiled rotten brats and nobody takes them to task for it.

Let’s be brutally honest here - besides politics, the only other place where you can be a spoiled brat and get away with it is professional sports. Worse yet, you can raise holy hell, get paid millions of dollars for it, and still get people asking for more!

Charles Barkley throws a guy through the window of a nightclub. Dennis Rodman kicks a photographer in the balls. Mike Tyson bits a chunk off Evander Hollyfield’s ear. Tonya Harding orders a hit on Nancy Kerrigan. Kerrigan later gets a silver medal in the Olympics and gets caught badmouthing her appearance in Disneyworld. Before that you have John McEnroe’s temper tantrums, Pete Rose’s gambling, and sports unions that go on strike in the middle of the season. The list goes on and on.

Part of the problem is that today’s athletes are treated as royalty. And this trickles down to even local sporting events. The story of athletes getting a free ride through school is more than just myth. How many college athletes have spent years before going professional, without getting a single degree for those years in college? Sport scouts are now staking out junior high schools looking for the next generation of name-brand athletes, acting like non-sexual perverts offering candy to children.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the overall problem we have with professional sports.

I get an uneasy feeling whenever I hear the announcer say with pride "This is YOUR sports team!" Yeah, I’ll bet the folks in Cleveland really appreciated that when THEIR football franchise, the Cleveland Browns, packed up and headed to Baltimore. The truth is these teams aren’t "ours." The only city who can legitimately claim to "own" a team is Green Bay. Any other team can pack up and move out of town on a whim.

But there is one thing that is "ours," and that’s the tax bill to pay for these stadiums. What? You mean you didn’t know that? Well you should have. When the baseball players went on strike a couple of years ago, it was revealed that by a little-known agreement, the city of Atlanta would have to eat the taxes on Fulton County Stadium if the Braves management couldn’t pay the bills. Didn’t know about that, did you? You’re not alone! Forbes Magazine recently did a story on the number of new stadiums built at taxpayer expense and how, while owners will be shelling out big bucks to the players, they won’t be able to pay for the big bills. Guess who will?

Professional sports have never been our games to begin with. This tragic fact goes back to the days of the Black Socks scandal. The only difference between the glory days and today’s in-your-face attitude is that we don’t candy-coat the sports figures. Instead, the media puts it out for the public to devour like buzzards on carrion. You don’t believe me? I’ve got two words for you - Marv Albert! This guy allowed every dark secret of his life to be exposed to the public in an embarrassing courtroom trial, and now wonders why he’s unemployed.

It hurts me even more to know that there are kids who look up to these sports figures as something they can achieve in. The nobility of professionals like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, however, take a back seat to advertising dollars. For every Nancy Kerrigan, there’s a Bonnie Blair, who won five gold medals and couldn’t get even a headband endorsement. Companies like Nike and Adidas pay big bucks to reach out to kids, either through commercials or sports camps, where the next generation of athletes are schooled and have their abilities honed like soldiers. And for an overwhelming majority of would-be Tigers and Mikes, the reality is they won’t get beyond the neighborhood field.

Sports is a lucrative business, but it is also a zero-sum, winner-take-all business, where today’s superstar is tomorrow’s has-been. Heisman trophy winner Doug Flutie went from being a college hero to an anonymous professional football player. William "Fridge" Perry went from being a member of the championship Chicago Bears to playing in the European football league. Jordan briefly went from being an NBA legend to being a minor league ballplayer who earned more for attendance than on the field.

We need to remember that these players are not gods. They’re mortal men and women just like the rest of us, and they need to be treated as such. How they perform on the field should not be more important than how they carry themselves outside of the limelight. If Latrell Spreewell was just Latrell Smith, he’d be treated just like any other punk who can’t control their temper.

We also need to stop thinking of sports teams as "ours." If owners want expensive stadiums, let them pay for it themselves, instead of sticking the bills to taxpayers.

The pimping and pandering to athletes and team management simply because they can win games needs to stop.

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