Sunday, April 22, 2007

Business or Pleasure: The New Game of Sports

By Jeff Glauser
The Phanatic Magazine

Ah, it's springtime once again! The flowers are blooming, the weather is warming, and everything seems fresh and new. It's the best time of the year, especially for a sports fan. One can almost taste the potential in the air. Baseball season has kicked off (though in ominous fashion around these parts), hockey and basketball have begun the “real” season of the playoffs, and I know that training camp is right around the corner for football when the draft comes on. So, for me, everything in life should be beautiful.

But if that is the case, why do I feel that it’s not like it once used to be? Is there something else in my life that is more significant now?

Well, no, not really. I still have all the enthusiasm inside of me that I did back in my yesteryear. Sadly, my life can still potentially revolve around superficial games, events, and statistics at any given moment. The real reason my thirst for professional sports has not been fully quenched is that the purity has been lost.

Athletes have forgotten why they got involved with sports in the first place. It was because when they realized they could turn an innocent dream into a serious reality, they jumped. Then they forgot that others who actually make an impact and a substantial difference on society (like teachers, law enforcers, and various people with the collar of blue) don't get paid nearly enough to do work that takes more effort and requires more than just a fast pitch or a nice jump shot. Sure, it's swell that Joe All-Star can run real fast with a ball in his hands, but it’s purely entertainment and somehow, somewhere along the way, this very important point got lost in the shuffle.

The downfall can be simply summed up in one word: Greed.

Hardly just workers, professional athletes have swindled teams, shunned fans, and suckered owners into paying more for it. The greed, of course, comes in the form of the dollar bill. A dollar bill which literally tears the identity of a sports town apart. And in the end, it’s the fans that wind up getting stepped on.

For me, I personally grew up with sports. As a child, whenever something didn't go right or I was sad, lonely, or confused, all I had to do was turn on a game, read the paper, admire my baseball card collection, or my posters, or autographs... you get the point. It was something that was a part of me, just like the games were a part of the players. This made me feel special as well, almost like I was helping my team.

Now that I'm older, I realize that I actually was helping my teams. Money talks, and my wallet was screaming bankruptcy with all the merchandise and tickets that I bought. All this while contracts skyrocketed, owners participated in corporate buyouts (and subsequent moves) of organizations, and pay-per-view or obscure channel placement for events (where the hell is Versus?) became increasingly commonplace.

I guess the "thank you" note addressed to me got lost in the mail.

With some of the stories I hear, sometimes I find it hard to believe that players can relate at all. About ten years ago, NFL player Sean Gilbert decided that the $20 million contract he was offered wasn’t good enough for his services. So he sat out a season. The following year, Gilbert was offered $47.5 million by another team- after sitting out for $20 million. So, he more than doubled his salary just by sitting on his posterior on Sunday afternoons, just like us, the previous season. Locally, as we well know, a similar scenario panned out not long ago involving the letters ‘T’ and ‘O.’

Can you relate to someone who can earn that much money for literally doing nothing?

(And, on a side note, does anyone even remember who Sean Gilbert was?)

As a child, I admired these players. Now I'm jealous of them. There is a fine line. When I was a kid, I would watch a game, and when it ended, put myself in the same situations in my own imaginary world. It would be me making that shot at the buzzer, me hitting the home run in the bottom of the ninth, me getting the touchdown in overtime. Now don't get me wrong: I didn't look up to these players as role models, I just wanted to be like them. There is a distinct difference there.

Lately, I have been worried that the younger generation's imaginary scripts won't pan out the way mine used to. Over the last ten years, my perception of the lifestyle I once adored and emulated has been tainted by strikes, lockouts, contract disputes, expansion, suspensions and fines.

Even the Olympics, the last chance for sportsmanship, pride and glory, have been tainted, as they have become a commercialized event rather than a time for the best amateur athletes around the world to compete simply for the love of the game and not the love of the green.

We fans used to be the focal point. Now our once mighty voices have been practically silenced.

So what can we do? One option is almost too simple: Don't pay.

Don't buy the merchandise, don't go to the ballparks, don't get reeled into pay-per-view. Just don't do it, if only to show how much we really do care.

But that’s just not happening now, is it.

Or, another option is to just have these selfish men pay a little more attention to their counterparts, the opposite sex. Women have only just recently been noticed for their superb demeanor and integrity in sports. Unfortunately, though, we men usually don’t listen when we know that the woman is right.

So springtime comes into full bloom once again, everything seems the same. The flowers are still growing, the sun is still shining, the bees are still stinging, but there's still an empty feeling inside. And a note to all who have taken part of the purity out of our spring:

Please don't steal someone else's childhood.

Jeff Glauser’s articles can be found each Sunday. Jeff himself can be found at home trying to figure out what channel Versus is.

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