What’s not to like about sports? Try these
Sports fans are a faithful — some might even say brainwashed — bunch.
That shouldn’t be surprising, seeing as how “fan” is only a few letters removed from “fanatic,” which is another word for “extremist.” Where does the brainwashed part come in? Well, it simply means we’re gullible and likely to buy whatever bill of goods the athletic world is peddling with little or no resistance on our part.
Sometimes that refers to exorbitant prices, like the $20 cup of hot chocolate in a commemorative cup that was available for purchase at MetLife Stadium during the Super Bowl. Other times, it means blindly accepting an inferior product — think 2013 Cubs and White Sox — without any thought of abandoning ship for a more worthwhile option, which in a baseball sense could be anything from the Windy City Thunderbolts to teams in the Palos Baseball Organization.
Fans rarely demand very much. Sure, they may carp about high costs and low achievement, but neither one causes them to seek another recreational venue.
I’m no different. Having followed sports almost my entire life and written about them for about half of it, I’m as much of a sucker as anyone else when it comes to being hooked on them.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of things I’d gladly do without. Following are a few of my bigger complaints about today’s sports landscape, done in alphabetical order.
• Apologies when they’re not offered sincerely. This actually applies to any public figure guilty of wrongdoing or exercising extremely poor judgment, but since this is a sports column, we’ll stick with the jocks.
First of all, when the athlete has erred, why is it left up to his team’s public relations people to craft a supposedly suitable mea culpa? And then the sports figure reads the prepared statement with nary a shred of remorse, which makes the entire episode even more laughable.
I also love how most of the apologies include one of two phrases: “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” or “I’m sorry, but …” Those are nothing more than subtle attempts to ostensibly shift blame away from the actual offender, either by claiming extenuating circumstances or implying that insulted third parties are the ones with the real problem.
• Bad music, particularly when it’s piped into an enclosed arena or gymnasium at ear-splitting decibels. I’d prefer to hear a school band play, and that’d be true even at a professional venue.
• Commercialization, because it is never-ending. Yes, I know advertisements are a necessary evil if we want to watch sports from the comfort of our own homes, but it’s gone way beyond that.
Besides having stadiums named after corporate entities — sometimes embarrassingly, as was the case when the Houston Astros played in Enron Field — and those sites awash in promotional signage, we now have sponsors for every segment of a telecast. Funny, isn’t it, how once upon a time things like halftime stats, starting lineups and game summaries were able to be presented on TV without any input from Verizon, Toyota or Apple?
• Dunks, especially since they rarely excite anymore. Yeah, the first time we saw Julius Erving take off from the free-throw line and not land until after he completed a tomahawk jam was pretty impressive, but remember it was the 1970s. We were also impressed with bell-bottomed pants, leisure suits and “Laverne and Shirley” during that decade, so that ought to tell you something about our discriminating tastes back then.
In truth, Dr. J’s move was awesome, and Michael Jordan had a few good ones, too, in the years that followed. Watching a little guy like Spud Webb sky high was also pretty cool. However, almost every dunk nowadays has a seen-it-before feel to it, and when guys take four and five steps to get airborne, the thrill is definitely gone. I just wish somebody would tell that to the folks who compile nightly highlights for ESPN.
• End zone dances, which are completely ridiculous. Not only will none of the “entertainers” ever be mistaken for Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire or Mikhail Baryshnikov, but the whole look-at-me deal has no place in a team sport.
No one does it alone. If that were true, a dominating force such as Wilt Chamberlain would have won myriad NBA world championships and the aforementioned MJ wouldn’t have been ring-less in those years before guys like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant arrived on the scene.
The NFL obviously houses the biggest share of self-promoters, which is one reason college football — which abides by much stricter rules regarding celebratory acts — is my first choice when it comes to gridiron viewing. But here’s a point I’ve made before and something worse considering once more: Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders scored a combined 743 touchdowns in their careers. Not one of them was followed by dance steps.
• Fans are obviously part of every sporting event. Interacting with them has never been an enjoyable aspect of live attendance, but it’s much worse these days, thanks to the deterioration of basic civility among so many of our fellow citizens.
If I’m going to have something spilled on me while watching a game, I’d prefer that it happen at home, where I could punish the guilty individual without fear of security intervention and possible legal entanglement, and then sit in front of the TV in a bathrobe while my clothes are being washed. I’d get a chill if I were so scantily attired at the stadium.
• Guaranteed contracts are one of the very biggest mistakes perpetrated on the sports-watching public. They’re basically an invitation for athletes to go through the motions and not worry about production, or turn a minor injury into a three-month stint on the disabled list without any fear of lost income.
My father used to say he liked golf best because it was a true sport. What he meant was golfers got paid only if they played and performed at a certain level of efficiency. That’s how members of the Greatest Generation thought — living wages in exchange for an honest day’s work.
Dad wouldn’t recognize today’s world.
• Hype is the lifeblood of advertisers and PR firms, and the sports world overdoses on it. How many Games of the Century or once-in-a-lifetime moments have we been treated to through the years?
I recall the words of former Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, who was asked after his first Super Bowl appearance what it felt like to take part in the “ultimate game.” Thomas replied that if it was the ultimate game, why was there going to be another one played at the same time next year?
And let’s be honest, few events live up to the hype. The first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight did, and so did the 1971 Thanksgiving Day matchup between Nebraska and Oklahoma, the 1-2 college football teams in the country at that time. But a large number of Super Bowls have been blowouts and many other supposedly not-to-be-missed contests could have easily been ignored with no regrets.
• Instant replay comes in two forms, and I’m referring to the older version. I’m still not crazy about play reviews during games simply because they’re saying that while players and coaches are allowed to be human and occasionally err, officials are not allowed the same degree of latitude.
My gripe here, though, has to do with television replays. Being old enough to remember when they were first introduced, I certainly admire how much the technology has advanced through the years and that plays can now be seen from virtually every angle, but why do we have to see every play shown again and again and again?
Once upon a time, instant replay was used only to see a repeat of spectacular plays, questionable calls or magical moments. Today, routine fly balls, halfback dives and 15-foot jumpers get examined as closely as a crime scene, which is a crime in itself and grows tedious in a hurry.
Had enough complaints? I hope not because there are more to come next week.