Greed, Race, and Money in Sports

Mike HempelCorrespondent IApril 30, 2008

Upon watching the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Washington Wizards in the 2008 NBA Playoffs, it hit me.

It's no longer a sport I'm watching.

There is a serious problem, that we, as sports fans, must address.

It's not just in the professional ranks, either.

It's little league parents screaming and cussing because they're child got pulled, or college athletes being recruited illegally, boosters giving teenagers more money than they've probably seen in their entire lifetime.

It's a problem that has gotten so big, it's reached all sports in all levels.

And being the avid sports fan that I am, it's making me sick.

Now, don't get me wrong, by no means am I implying or insinuating that athletes of all kinds are scum, far from it actually.  The problem is you have to dig through all of the lieing and coniving to find these guys doing the right thing, day in and day out.

What I do see, however, is Chris Henry, Pacman Jones, Mike Tyson, Darryl Strawberry and other delinquents in sport. The list could go on for days. 

I see professional athletes, who at a very young age, are handed the keys to the world. 

I turn on SportsCenter, and I see recruiting scandals, steroids in sports, athletes getting arrested, affairs, tax evasion, and just about everything else imaginable.

I turn on ESPN News, and I see Roger Clemens, a baseball icon, being accused of using illegal, performance-enhancing drugs, and lying under oath about the very same thing. 

And here's the kicker.

Sometimes, when I'm just tired of hearing about all the negativity that is surrounding sports, and would like to catch up on things in this wonderful country we live in, I'll turn on MSNBC where I see other celebrity-screw-ups like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. 

Is there nothing going on in the world that needs to be reported? Are there no issues that we as Americans should concern ourselves about?  Is there not a looming presidential election?

You mean to tell me, the most important thing going on in the news are our celebrities?

Yet we wonder why other countries dub us vein, self-involved, lazy, and ignorant.

As Americans, our culture is reaching unparalleled levels of laziness, arrogance, and an overall level of pompousness that has extended outside of our sports world.

Now, I'm aware this is a website about sports, not about world politics, celebrities, and foreign relations. 

I get it. 

But it's something that has gotten so bad, any medium can, and should be used to show this growing problem.

For the sake of argument, I'll limit the rest to just sports.

Where has the sportsmanship gone? Where is the overwhelming love for these games we all played as children? Where is the passion?

I constantly hear coaches and players alike preaching team unity, unselfishness, and hard work, yet it's hard to find.

I see greed; I see players wanting to be the best, receive the ultimate sports accolades, but put forth very little to accomplish these goals.

I see race; a constant reminder of how "funny" it is to see a white guy playing basketball, how rare it is to see African Americans in front offices or in the coaching ranks, how Latin Americans and Asians are taking over baseball. 

I see money; professional athletes complaining that multi-million dollar contracts don't meet fair levels of compensation for playing the game they love.  Latrell Sprewell needing more money to feed his kids.  Chad Johnson, Lance Briggs, Larry Johnson, Brian Urlacher, the list goes on.

Alex Rodriguez signing a 10-year, $275 million dollar contract to play baseball. 

Am I alone on this? Are there others that share my same sentiment?

Are our sports not becoming punchlines for our favorite jokes?

Now, I don't mean to completely bash sports as a whole, or even imply that nothing has been done or tried to improve these areas.

But I think the solution is much easier than the problem.

No more high school athletes jumping straight to professional sports.  A college degree must be ascertained before becoming a professional athlete. 

Maybe that's a little extreme, but how about this.  A college athlete must take one business, economics, and financial accounting class upon graduating. 

Maybe then these athletes can invest, save and manage their money better.

Professional athletes don't get nine lives. 

I'm all for second chances, everyone makes mistakes, myself included.  It's unfair to put perfection as a fair level of expectation.  Hell, my favorite athlete is Pete Rose if that doesn't say it all. 

Implement a two-strike policy; you mess up once, everyone deserves a second chance.  If you manage to overlook your opportunity at a second chance, you're banned from the sport. 

Every professional athlete, or professional teams should be mandated by their respective league to perform a set amount of community service per season.  Visit hospitals, YMCA's, children in inner cities.  Make donations to the Salvation Army, Boys and Girls clubs, Habitat for Humanities.  Be leaders in your local communities.

Every time a player signs a new contract, a small percentage should be donated to the team's designated charity.

Every owner should take a small portion of their yearly earnings and do the same.

Every training camp or preseason, athletes should be required to attend a free autograph session.   

Then there's steroids.  Commissioners, general managers, and even our American government can't figure out the solution. 

I have it; ban any player, all-star or career minor leaguer, if ever caught using steroids, HGH, or any performance-enhancing substance.  Implement a zero-tolerance policy.  If you truly love the game you're playing, don't cheat. 

I know I just preached second chances, but sometimes prior actions of others prohibit these opportunities. 

Whether or not these ideas may be wise, fair or even realistic is unimportant.

What is important, is change.

We must change who we see as role models, who parents allow their children to emulate. 

We must change our sports culture before our little leaguers and young athletes alike grow up thinking sportsmanship is something that is expected, not required.

We must change the way we as fans, support our respective teams for drafting or signing players that can't obey the law. 

We must change.

Now I know this wasn't the most thought-through, well written article ever published on this website.  But I hope my message outweighs my journalistic talents. 

I don't mean to preach from a pedestal, or cast an ugly, greedy net around athletes who abide the law, are solid role models, and make a difference in their community. 

I just hope people read what I say, and at least think.  Think about who your "favorite athletes" are, who you view as role models, and what your favorite sport(s) has turned into. 

The sports we all know and love are wonderful, they are pure (at times), simplistic, and iconic in our culture. 

We must change to keep it that way.


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