Over the last few decades, sports have been transformed from a love of the game to a business. From high school athletes getting benefits to the ESPN-centered world, sports are no longer “just for fun.”
This led to a point where a kid being a good player was more important than being a good person. In the modern age, winning is more important than creating character and, frankly, it’s not going to change. Money and winning rule this world now, thanks to the fame and stardom given to the kids.
While reading the most recent issue of ESPN The Magazine, I read an article that interviewed the number-one players in their respective senior classes over the last 25 years. One interview with Ronald Powell (2010 class) particularly stood out to me. In it he detailed how he became the best high school player in the country, “I started talking back and cussing at my teachers, getting into fights.”
This is a prime example of status going to a player’s head. Powell acted this way until word got out and he slipped from that coveted number-one spot. Luckily for him, he had teachers and family around him to get him back on track and finish the year as the best player in high school football.
But he is not alone. It isn’t just five-star recruits acting like this. You see it from young kids on the playground all the way up to professional athletes. It’s terrible how if a star athlete has a problem with a coach or player, then one is traded or fired.
As we look back on the Lakers’ three peat run in the early 2000s, Kobe Bryant and Shaq were a dynamic duo until their egos got in the way. Shaq was the guy and Bryant wanted more spotlight. This led to Shaq being traded, Phil Jackson quitting for a few seasons and Bryant slipping out of playoff contention.
In Bryant’s case, he realized his flaws and fixed his actions. He has moved far beyond the incident in Colorado with cheating on his wife. Ben Roethlisberger has been accused twice of trying to take advantage of a young girl. His only consequence was being suspended for three games in the beginning of this NFL season. But in the end, his team made the Super Bowl and almost won.
But I ask, where is the lesson in that? Do we as society really believe he is sorry he did that, or more sorry he got caught? I feel like this is not sending the proper message to young kids who place these athletes as role models.
It has been a while since athletes in the limelight were good role models and great athletes at the same time. Most times, if you’re nice and play the game the right way, you aren’t successful.
This reminds me of one of my idols, John Wooden. He is one of the most successful coaches in history and at the same time he was a great Christian who says his best victories are teaching young college players how to be real men in life. His pyramid of success is truly profound, yet I question whether he would be as successful in this day and age.
When he coached, it was his way or no way. He required players to have certain hair styles and when basketball great Bill Walton didn’t comply, Wooden told him to cut his hair or he would be kicked off the team.
Strangely, nothing like that would ever happen these days. Before a coach would be able to kick a high-profile player like Walton off his team, the school/ organization would fire that coach.
Today, sadly, sports are run by high-profile athletes and not by teams. My fear, as a fan of sports, is that the change we have seen over the last 30 years will only keep getting worse. I don’t know what the culture of sports will be like 30 years from now, and I’m not sure I want to know. Hopefully, society will change and improve its character, but I doubt it.