We’ve got a few questions to answer tonight readers, so let’s get right down to it.
Sports Heroes – The Curious Case of Lance Armstrong
My professor posted an interesting New York Times article by William Rhoden for us to read. “Seeing Through the Illusions of the Sports Hero” discusses star athletes and how we often treat them as role models. This view has become particularly muddled in recent years with the prevalence of steroids, the shattering of Tiger Woods’ reputation, and now the fall of Lance Armstrong.
I could go on and on about Armstrong’s story (and probably will at some point), but right now I’ll use this space to discuss another point of Rhoden’s.
“There is nothing heroic about the athlete who plays hurt and performs brilliantly, the hitter who smacks the game-winning home run or the kicker who makes the winning field goal on the last play of the game,” he writes.
Sorry, sir, but I disagree. Yes, professional athletes are paid to play their sport, to perform. Hitting home runs, kicking field goals, and sometimes even playing through some pain are all expected of them. The fact that they are able to do these things is not what makes them heroic – it is the situations in which they do them. The flashbulbs of cameras, the roaring crowd, the jeers from opposing fans. How many people can come through in the clutch and perform under those circumstances? That is what makes the hero. Those are the special ones – the jerseys we buy, the posters we put up, the ones that young athletes aspire to be.
Yes, they’re still human, as we’ve learned with all too many players. I still remember my reaction when I found out that Alex Rodriguez had tested positive back in 2003 (though maybe I won’t reprint that here). I was crushed. He was supposed to be the clean one to break the home run record – and in a Yankee uniform!
So should we hold up athletes as our role models, our heroes? Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean we won’t. After all, I know I wasn’t the only one who was excited about the tear Melky Cabrera went on before his positive test came out. And that also doesn’t mean we should condemn everyone. My generation grew up with the heroes of Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones. A younger generation of fans will get to watch and root for players like Mike Trout – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Rights & Religion
On to another, perhaps more difficult, topic. In class this past week we discussed a number of cases involving the question of whether or not prayer should be allowed at the sports games of public high schools and universities. There’s freedom of religion, but there’s also separation of church and state. Decisions regarding this have been, for the most part, vague and inconsistent. Rules vary for high school and college, and there are also distinctions between the mention of ‘God’ and the mention of ‘Jesus.’
This was not something that I had ever dealt with, but apparently a public prayer before the start of a football game is not uncommon in some places. Reading and talking about it, though, I immediately knew that if I was put in that situation I would be extremely uncomfortable. (Something tells me this is not the type of prayer usually done before games.)
Some people raised ideas such as announcing the prayer, and allowing those who are not religious or not of the same faith to “tune it out” or “do their own thing” during that time. Is that an image sports teams would really want to present to fans? “This is how we’re going to do it, and if you don’ t like it… just makes yourselves busy till we’re done excluding you.” Last time I checked, it’s pretty hard to tune out the loudspeaker or a crowd of tens of thousands of people. (When Gio scored this weekend even people in the library could hear the roars from Kenan Stadium.)
This is a class about marketing. Marketing is about getting and keeping the attention of fans, a lot of which has to do with image. Image should be positive; exclusion is not. Why risk it? Professional sports don’t seem to miss prayer – high school and college sports will be fine without it too.