Turn the key in the lock. Open the door. Close the door. Take off my shoes. Drop off my books and bags in their proper places. Plop down on the couch. Turn on SportsCenter. It’s a pretty regular routine of mine for times that I just want to relax after a hard day. I’m sure many of my fellow fellows in America have something of a similar routine after their days as well. But there’s just one thing that bugs me about this routine. Whenever I turn out SportsCenter and start catching up with news in the sports world, it seems to be a routine as well that there will be some sort of negative influence or impact that a player or organization has had. And that’s the one thing that doesn’t satisfy me about my daily routine of SportsCenter.
Most recently, the headlines have been about the “bounty program” that the Saints defense had in place from 2009 to 2011. What makes this sad is that it encompasses the success the Saints had in their Super Bowl-winning year of 2009. What makes this even sadder is that it had to happen to the nation’s beloved franchise of the Saints. Thinking beyond which teams we support, there is no doubt that the city of New Orleans needed something to rally behind after Hurricane Katrina, and the Saints were one of the most brightly shining beacons. However, what makes this the saddest is that we would be fools to think this type of “shady” business is only exclusive to this one team at this one point in time.
In my mind, the problem doesn’t start here. It’s not something that just affects professional sports. To me, it’s something that is even more prevalent in college sports than in professional sports. Heck, it’s something that’s even beginning to permeate high school sports. But for now, let’s just take a look at a few of the sad transactions that have occurred in college sports over the years.
One of the most notable, and also most recent uproars in college sports has been the scandal around the staff of Joe Paterno. It was something that caused the winningest football coach in Division I college football history, and a career built upon 62 years of coaching experience and hard work, came crashing down in a matter of seconds.
Next is the situation involving USC and Reggie Bush. USC, crowned the “decade’s best team” by ESPN, were indeed a powerhouse during that decade. In that span, they achieved 2 National Championships, and a 3rd appearance in which they lost to my beloved Texas Longhorns, and recognized 3 Heisman Trophy winners. However, after much careful investigating, the revealing of improper benefits given to players among other infractions has resulted in a wins being stripped away, scholarships being revoked, and Reggie Bush becoming the only player to ever have a Heisman Trophy award taken away.
Regrettably, we could go on and on with this list, citing scandals such as Nevin Shapiro and his involvement with the Miami Hurricanes football program, the firing of Jim Tressel after the revelation of improper benefits at Ohio State, and the most famous of all, the death of the “Pony Express” and SMU’s entire football program in the 1980’s.
Clearly, there is something wrong with American sports. Clearly, there are shifty and shady things going on behind the scenes that the average American sports fan goes by each day unaware of. And clearly, so very clearly, there needs to be something done about it.
Personally, I believe that the underlying change that needs to occur is with the culture and ideal of American sports. There is something very wrong when a coach or an administration commits infractions against rules that hold up a program or sport’s integrity. It teaches the players that come through the program that in order to succeed, cheating is okay and sometimes even necessary. The players then take this mindset into the next level of play, until eventually; it reaches the professional level and climaxes in such outrages as the “bounty program” in New Orleans. But wait! It doesn’t even end there. Sports in America is such a great source of entertainment in our culture that people of all ages and interests keep up with at least some kind of sport. And even if they don’t, they may still hear of sports news from their peers who do keep up with it. And when they do, the scandals, outrages, and corruption is all they hear about. Just take a minute, and think about what kind of role model that is being created in a young child’s mind when that happens. It teaches those kids as well, that walking fine lines is okay, and that it’s even cool to do so. It’s cool to try and get improper benefits or go along with illegal recruiting or create programs that give rewards for hurting other players. And why? Because the pros do it too. That’s the kind of sports culture that Americans have created.
So to begin that change, there needs to be a shift in the culture. Does anyone in America remember the days of John Wooden? How about the greatly respected Tony Dungy? Mike Krzyzewski? These men, among other select coaches, truly understood and still understand, what it really meant to be a coach. They understood that sports were merely a way to teach young men and women about how to achieve success in life, and then how to manage it well. And the thing about these coaches? They all enjoyed great success in their coaching careers as well. It’s a standard for coaches and programs everywhere that can bring that shift in sports culture that has become so urgent. It’ll be a long process, but it’s where the real glory road begins.
Finally, this brings me to the little things which lead me to believe there is still hope for change. In the NFL NFC Championship game this year between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York GIants, a young man named Kyle Williams became the goat of the world. A young man, a rookie, who was thrust into a role because of an injury to a teammate should be commended for being ready to accept that role in a high pressure situation, right? Apparently, not to sports fans and not to Devin Thomas. After Kyle Williams fumbled twice in the Championship game, he started receiving boos and some things a little worse than boos from sports “fans.” The worst of it came in this form on Twitter, “I hope you, youre wife, kids and family die, you deserve it.” Even New York Giant, Devin Thomas, when asked to relate to Williams and his feelings for him, said that he didn’t feel sorry for Williams at all. This is coming from a guy who has struggled to find a home through playing on 3 different teams in 2 years. Unbelievable. This is what the sports world has come to, and this is what sports culture has become. However, like I said, there is still hope for change. And in this case, the hope came in the form of a letter from a seven-year old boy named Owen Shure. In his letter, he writes:
“Dear Mr. Williams, We just watched the Playoff game. I feel really bad for you but I wanted to tell you that you had a great season. you should be very proud, so I wanted to say thank you. I am your #1 FAN!”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what sports should be about. Support, loyalty, leadership, and class. John Wooden recognized it. It’s why he built his Pyramid of Success on such values like the ones listed above, and this is just an average Joe’s opinion, but I think it’s about time America recognized that truth as well. Why do we call people “good sports?” It’s because sports are not about winning or losing, but learning the truth that playing with integrity and dignity makes you a winner every time.
SOURCES: USAToday, ESPN, Huffington Post