I am a big sports fan…always have been. I played several sports growing up. I collected baseball and football cards. I played pickup basketball every chance I got. It is harder to be a sports fan today because all too often the emphasis is no longer on the sport itself but instead is on the players, the scandals, the rule changes, the fines, the suspensions…yada yada yada.
My own experience went as follows…
Soccer – I realized early on that I wasn’t much good at soccer, other than scaring the hell out of opposing players at the fullback position when they saw fit to approach our goal 🙂
Baseball – I was pretty adept at baseball and played that for several years, even setting the home run record for the league one year in my Little League.
Basketball – I played basketball through high school and was taught to play the game correctly by a legendary coach who to this day I consider to be one of my biggest mentors. This was a blessing but also a curse because it is very hard to find people these days who are purists and play the game how it was intended to be played, opting instead for the flashy 3 point shot or the dunk to show up the opposing player. Problem was, I was tall, but also fairly wide and slow in high school, so basketball was a sport for which I was not exactly well-suited.
Football – Never played organized football as I didn’t see eye to eye with the coach where I went to high school and opted for Basketball and Track instead. I sometimes wonder if I would have excelled at it and would have made different decisions with regards to my continuing education had I gone on to play in college.
Track and Field – Started this in high school with the shot and discus and ended up competing for 3 years in college for UCSD at shot and javelin.
Rugby – Played for 10+ years after college at the club level. I consider this sport to be one of the purest out there.
What strikes me as I look at many of these sports being played professionally today is how different they are from the sports I grew up playing.
Football – It seems like the game changes every year from a rules standpoint. You have scandals like the one going on now involving ‘bounties’ and the concept that players were paid to hurt other players and knock them out of games. You have players who sign contracts and decide halfway through that they aren’t making enough money so they will hold out and try to put pressure on the ownership to sign them to new contracts. If you or I did that at our jobs, we would quickly be looking for new employment. What happened to honoring your contract and your word and then having the ability to re-sign for more money with a new contract if you have done a good job?
Basketball – Very few teams grasp the ‘team concept’. Individual players go for the glory concentrating on the sensational and padding their stats so they can sign big contracts. The regular season has come to mean virtually nothing, only the playoffs seem compelling. Nothing but the last few minutes of a game seem to matter.
Baseball – The game was critically harmed by strikes fueled by greed by both players and owners. They lost fans. It is pretty hard for the ‘Average Joe’ to justify taking his family to a game when it costs more and more every year to attend. Meanwhile, the contracts continue to go up as do the revenues for the owners.
Hockey – Probably still the purest of the big 4 American sports…but only because they haven’t been at the party for as long.
All Star games that I used to enjoy watching when I was growing up are unwatchable these days. Players showboating, or not putting out any kind of effort…games that are meaningless…commercial break after commercial break…borderline players voted in when deserving players are left out.
College sports are much better because players understand the team concept more and individual accolades are mostly put aside in favor of team success. That said, too often kids leave school early to pursue professional athletic careers. They lose focus on the fact that college does a lot to prepare you for life and the working world, choosing instead to chase the brass ring of a professional career in athletics,
Kid’s sports are purer still. Enjoyment of the game and participation are key. Friendly rivalries between schools and friends are things that last a lifetime. It is ironic that every professional athlete I have met personally or known through friends still talks about these years and these games with their friends. They talk about who bested whom…who played well…what a great time they had… Problem is, even at an early age these days we find ourselves trying to groom the next greatest athletes, putting tons of pressure on kids at a very early age to ‘get to the next level’. Perhaps it is just the purist in me who is saddened by this…
I used to be glued to the TV on weekends to watch the ‘big games’…Now, if a team I support isn’t playing, a lot of times I really could care less. Some teams still get it… They play as a unit and are more substance than flash. Some players get it too…they put everything they have on the field and leave it there. Most don’t.
Again, as always, just my $.02.