A friend of mine recently told me that all Europeans think Americans are self-centered idiots.
Call it the Jersey Shore syndrome, but people on the other side of the pond seem to think that reality TV is in some way representative of the typical American.
Sadly, when it comes to our sports heroes they aren't that far off. I'd even go so far as to say that the American sports world has deteriorated into a glorified reality TV show.
Gone are the days of athletes who would play their hearts out until they couldn't drag their battered bodies off the field—simply for the love of the game. Usher in a new era. One in which the glorious sweat of the old days only serves one purpose: to ruin how you look in front of the cameras.
Exhibit A: LeBron James and Miami Shore
Everyone knows where LeBron James decided to play, how he made that decision, and how many times he picked his nose while he did it (more realistically, how many times he referred to himself in the third person).
I'm not telling you anything you haven't already heard, and now that the information has had a few days to settle, let’s take a look at the bigger picture:
People are talking about LeBron James and his transition to Miami more than any sports event in the past year. More than the Super Bowl, the World Cup, the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup, and the World Series—you know, actual sports—the things that (should) matter in the sports world.
There is only one competitor for James' throne of pop culture fame. You guessed it. Tiger Woods. And no, not because of his golf swing.
LeBron is self-centered; he took the easy way out; he cares more about being on TV than working on his game. The list goes on.
Whether you agree with any or all of those statements isn't the point. The point is so much more than that.
Sports are no longer about the games we used to play as kids. They have become an avenue for athletic reality TV stars to become status symbols, not for their talent but for their off-the-court antics. Those descriptions of LeBron are not out of the ordinary. They are the norm.
It's funny how I remember just wanting to play basketball every day of my life when I was a kid growing up. I didn't want to play basketball so I could become a movie star, a Twitter star, or dance with the stars.
Proof that the games no longer matter
You probably cared more about the NBA's free agency period than you cared about the entire last season. The same goes for football and the NFL Draft; or baseball and who got snubbed from the All-Star Game. If you didn't, then you were probably in the minority.
It's how the big wigs (aka ESPN) want you to feel. The game itself is no longer captivating enough.
Seeing a guy score 81 points in a game is not as interesting as discovering another guy slept with (probably) 81 women outside of his marriage.
Seeing a guy run a 100-yard dash in 9.58 seconds is not nearly as interesting as how fast a guy was driving while intoxicated (or how many times he did it).
And certainly, seeing a guy play basketball isn’t nearly as entertaining as watching him talk about himself and his “decision” for an hour.
Former Chief Justice Earl Warren once said, “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records man’s accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man’s failures.”
Sports no longer provides that outlet to escape from everyday life as it once did. It's simply just another venue to see how people fail, perhaps even harder than people in the news section.
We used to think of athletes as role models. It is rare these days to find any who actually are. I may be asking too much of athletes who often find themselves in high-paying positions of power. At the very least, I'd like them to bring back the sanctity of athletic competition.
Give me the games. Give me the stats. Give me the achievements. Something to look forward to at the end of the day. But please keep your money, your egos and the extracurricular activities to yourself.
When I was a kid, I never thought I would have to say "give me an escape from 'sports'.”
This may not be a recent development for most of you, but it has certainly reached a new pinnacle of disappointment for many.
The Mayans predicted an apocalypse in 2012, but even the innocence of sports couldn't last that long.
The Chosen One made sure we were all witnesses to that crime. He might not have started the tragedy, but he made sure he finished the job.
The worst part is that we all stroked his ego by watching him do it.