Thursday, July 5, 2007

Stick to the field with your sports criticism

Barry Bonds, Johnny Damon, Pacman JonesThere's an epidemic going around. It spreads in newspapers, gyms, slow-pitch softball games, churches and pretty much anywhere that sports are discussed and debated. It's called I'd Never Do That syndrome.

In the sports world, there is always debate. It's inevitable that people want to offer what they feel that professional athletes should do with their lives. Second guessing in-game decisions as well as off-field decisions are the easiest arguments to make.

On-field issues are easy to discuss and criticize for several different reasons. We have the benefit of gruelingly reviewing plays through instant replay and discussion, which gives us some kind of perceived omniscience about the game that is almost always skewed and incomplete. Some who played the sport (no matter how briefly) feel they have some kind of extra knowledge that some egghead who just watches that particular sport doesn't have. Never mind that they probably played for two years in the long, long ago; they know the sport because they played it.

But, despite the annoying proportions that in-field criticism reaches, it isn't that bad. After all, that's many people's reason for following sports: to live the sports dream by proxy. No, the most egregious sports opinions are the ones that have to do with issues surrounding sports that don't involve in-game analysis. That's where INDTs strikes truest.

Everyone has heard it before. "Look at Barry Bonds, what a cheater. I never would have taken steroids. That just isn't right." Another classic: "How could he abandon his teammates for a few extra million dollars? I would have taken the pay cut." And finally, my favorite: "How could that guy go out partying like that? He makes millions, he could buy the party and bring it to his place. I'd never have gotten caught doing something stupid like that if I made his kind of money."

Just stop it. As I addressed in my article about LeBron James' Darfur situation, unless you have the money and face the situations these athletes deal with, you have no basis for saying how you would react.

Some people may possess the fortitude to say "no" to using steroids and making millions of dollars in salary and endorsements that come from it, but its moot. Until that situation is staring you in the face, you have no right to pass judgement on a pro athlete who decided he would use a substance that wasn't illegal to earn himself more money than you'll ever know. Players who allegedly used steroids like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi are rich men, and many of their kind are unapologetic about their pasts. They saw a pile of money waiting for them and sacrificed some of their long-term health and dignity for a lot more money. But, inevitably, some yahoo next to you at a bar will still be spouting on about how "they should give the money back, they cheated." Well, I hate to argue with you (seriously you're probably an idiot), but it isn't cheating because Major League Baseball screwed up and didn't make it illegal until the integrity of the sport was already compromised. So, any player out there that used performance-enhancing drugs before MLB outlawed them had the choice to take their health into their own hands as well as all the money they'd be making, or keep plugging along with their natural talent alone. On a personal note, I don't want Barry Bonds to break Hank Aaron's home run record. It's not because he played in a tainted era or used steroids. I just can't stand the guy. He's an insufferable jerk. That's far more of an offense than doing something that was within the rules at the time.

Salary issues are also a favorite point of contention. In December of 2005, Johnny Damon signed to the Yankees as a free agent for a few million more than the Red Sox had offered him. Red Sox fans were outraged. How could Damon just throw the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry to the side and sign with the enemy like that over a measly few million dollars? It should have been obvious. Your goofy rivalry doesn't mean a damn thing to him. You'd probably have taken the money too, hypocrite. He wanted more money and a new situation, and he took it. You thought he owed you some kind of break in playing for Boston when all he really owed you was to play the best he could while he was there. If anything, they should have been angry at ownership for not stepping up and paying Damon. Stop giving the team your money if you're that mad.

The most fun point of criticism involves off-field mischief players get into. I usually like to restrict my criticism to "What a dumbass" and try to leave it at that. But I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone remark about how they can't believe a player would continue to go out to clubs when trouble usually finds them. Well, guess what? They have tons of money and like to have fun, it's really not a novel concept. It doesn't make their activities smart, but it's not like it doesn't make any sense. As a general rule, people like to have fun. If they have the means to do it, they're likely going to have fun and bring all their friends along for the ride. So, get off your high horse and put a lid on it, you have no idea what their temptations are like unless you are put in their situation.

The bottom line is this: just because you follow sports and watch them religiously doesn't give you some kind of expert license to know what it's like to be faced with a pile of money and an endless amount of decisions concerning it. Stick to criticizing the on-field moves, it's a lot more fun to act like an expert that way.

Reasonably yours,

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Daris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daris said...

Like the article, it’s the first serious thing I’ve thought about, let alone written about in quite some time, so congrats. I will send you a cookie in the mail if you are interested!?

I did, however, have a couple of problems with your conclusions, probably because I want to keep judging people without a guilty conscience.

I make the "you can't judge people until you've walked a mile in their shoes" argument more than anyone else I know, but it seems to work a little better when moving down the socio-economic ladder as compared to up.

1. Don’t act like temptations change as you get more money. Drugs, drinking, and sex are fun no matter how much money you have, and they are everywhere. A party at a corner bar in Des Moines, Iowa and one on the strip in Vegas are surprisingly similar if you think about it; other than the brand of vodka and drug of choice.
2. I don’t judge people who fall victim to temptation, but it baffles me that people keep making mistake after mistake with so much to lose. I mean why not” bring the party to you” if your going out might mean flushing everything you’ve done up to that point down the drain.

3. Many people, with a lot less to lose, protect what little they have to the best of their abilities. More relevant to this maybe, a large majority of professional athletes have all of that “fun” you mention and do it in a way as to ensure their future financial/professional well-being. So, maybe you’re right, I personally can’t judge those people because I’ve never been in their position, but hundreds of thousands of millionaires over the last 30 years (maybe more)can. They did walk a mile in their shoes and protected what they had.

4. You suggest that professional athletes face more temptations than everyday people, and I think that’s a little off base. . My entourage (5 kids who all graduated from the same private school five years ago) went to a Vegas Strip club not too long ago with my buddy’s dad who makes a really, really nice living for himself. They didn’t pull any guns. No lines of coke were blown even though it was all around. No cops were called, and no depositions were given!

In layman’s terms, no rain was being made. So, yeah if I want to judge an idiot like PacMan Jones, I’m going to do it and be able to look myself in the mirror the next day without crying more than I usually do.