Sports can be deep.
Yes, at times, it's just a group of five or 11 or nine or however many guys or gals playing against another group of five or 11 or nine or however many guys or gals, doing something many of us would do for free if we had the ability. There's blood, sweat and tears at times, but there are also deep issues at play. REAL LIFE ONES.
In this week's Wildcard Wednesday Top Five, we'll be discussing five of the most pressing real-life issues that professional athletes are faced with, both during their careers and long after the ridiculous paychecks have stopped and there's only loneliness, unending frustration with failing physical abilities, and a desperate entourage hanging at their dry teats with mouths still open.
Should sports figures also be role models?
We all remember good old Chuck Barkley declaring to the world, "I am not a role model." But was he a huge, fat, Taco Bell-promotin'-and-eatin' liar?
Little children in every country with working TVs grow up watching sports, marveling at the athletic skill of the world's most iconic athletes. They see LeBron James dunkin' and chase-down blockin', Ben Roethlisberger quarterbackin' and scramblin', Alex Rodriguez doing things he does in his sport, David Beckham playing what everyone but America calls football (you know, ‘cause they actually use their feet most of the time), and want to be "Just Like Mike," so to speak. But where is that line drawn?
It's a given that gullible kids want to be able to perform on the field/court/mound/etc. like their favorite superstar. But what are they thinking when they find out BronBron is an arrogant d-bag the likes of which taxonomists have yet to classify? Or that Big Ben likes to party it up with money-hungry college dorm bunnies despite the fact that he's nearly 30? Or that A-Rod still finds Madonna hot (oh, and he took steroids)? Or that David Beckham is married to the corpse of a lady who once wore really tall shoes and sang terrible pop songs?
One would hope that fans realize the silly behavior as silly. But sometimes they just think it's part of the package of being a super-cool-fly athlete. Should the athletes care about the plight of fans who can't tell the difference? Are there enough corpses of former pop stars to go around if everyone decides to marry one?
Why do fans forget that athletes are real people?
Despite what many people believe, athletes are not robots engineered for the sole purpose of generating TV revenue on holidays. If Charlton Heston were here, he'd mumble something like, "Athletes ... is ... people!" before being shot in the head and placed with the other dispatched zombies.
So why do so many fans objectify athletes as if they were porn stars instead of human beings who happen to be athletically gifted and paid ridiculous amounts of money for it? Sure, sports is sometimes missing the same "sexy" factor as porn (unless you're Penny Taylor), but otherwise, both serve to satisfy some base human need that is often absent from the doldrums of daily life.
When athletes act unexpectedly human -- perhaps there's infidelity, or a DUI, or they've gotten engaged to a crazy woman with a bunch of stolen identities who's actually trying to extort money from them and is saying she's pregnant with their kid even though she's not -- their fans are sometimes quick to jump on them and scorn them for daring to show any kind of fallibility that doesn't match their strict role in society.
Fans spend so much time pretending that athletes do not exist when they turn off the TV or the radio or the interwebz that they sometimes are shocked to find out their favorite sports hero poops, pees and does hard drugs or engages in underground dog fights like the rest of us regular folk.
"Ah," the regular folk say to themselves, "that talented sports player played well in that particular sports event. I am satisfied. Wait, they are on the news in a segment which is not the brief sports segment of the news? What business does that sports player have doing anything but playing their sport and perhaps eating and sleeping when required?"
They are in the dirty, dirty business of being homo sapiens, my friends, just like you and I. So cut them some slack, assholes.
Is Gordon Gekko right ... is greed really good?
The almighty dollar is the piston pumping the engine of the world and sports, unfortunately, are not immune to its filthy allure.
Professional sports is a money-making monolith with a place deep in the hearts, minds, and wallets of a hell of a lot of people. Between TV revenue, game tickets, alcohol and food sales, memorabilia, bobble-head factories, sneaker sweat-shops, slave-driver philanthropy (remember, folks: the NBA cares), etc., there's an enormous amount of cash flowing between sports and fans.
Here enters the debate: more than a handful of fans have criticized the exorbitant salaries of professional athletes. But aren't they entitled to be paid in excess of many small countries' GDP because of how many Benjamins they generate? Isn't that what good old-fashioned American
murderous, bloodthirsty greed capitalism is all about?
Were Michael Douglas and Oliver Stone prophets of their time?
There's a bit of a paradox here, though: The blind pursuit of a paycheck is often at odds with rabid fandom, and the rabid fandom is what generates the paycheck. When Star Free Agent Player bolts Former Cheapskate Team for New Overpaying Team, without any regard to loyalties of any kind, it tends to upset fans who then promptly wish for the athlete's gruesome demise at the hands of any nearby stabbing and/or bludgeoning instrument. (Yes, Shaq, the entirety of Florida still vehemently hates your face.)
Ultimately, it ends up not mattering because fans of New Overpaying Team love the new star gloriously -- until he's in his mid-30s and making $20 million a year and sucking all of the precious life from their precious franchise like a vampire that thrives off of salary cap flexibility instead of blood.
The cash flow in professional sports is a convoluted mess that will likely never be resolved. That's why college sports are so much more pure: They're not based at all whatsoever (not one teeny-tiny bit) on money. Nope. No money. I swear. Seriously, the Heisman Trophy nominee can afford that new SUV on his own. He must have a part-time job or something.
Is there life after sports? If so, what is its quality?
Professional athletes spend decades preparing their bodies and minds for the fine art of competition, adhering to strict diets, passing approximately 176,254.7 hours in the weight room, and honing their super-sense of smell to detect even the most minute amounts of payola.
So what happens when the time for competition begins winding down and retirement starts poking its goddamn head where it doesn't belong?
Many athletes plummet into an existential purgatory of angst, confusion and failing biology -- a purgatory from which Brett Favre has yet to emerge. There's often a failure to reconcile the inability of their bodies to function at the highest level with the fact that they're now just old useless fogies that made more money in a shorter amount of time than any one of us schmucks in the 9-to-5 world ever will.
Pro athletes should be set for life when the sun starts setting on their supreme physical skills. But alas, poor money management and poor life management are all too common in the sports world and many of these retirees quickly set about blowing through their fortunes on dumb shit and spending their free time doing dumb shit.
In addition to all the dumb shit, many ex-athletes are left hobbled by the years of hardcore abuse on their knees, hips, feet, backs, etc., and spend the rest of their lives with grandpa-like range of motion and a lot of scarcely manageable pain.
Even though athletes are often extremely well compensated for playing what many fans would consider a silly game, the silliness of that game warp-ages their bodies and takes a pretty hefty toll on their livelihood as they enter what many of us would consider our "prime."
Nothing sweeter than spending your 30s onward with an empty bank account, surrounded by useless crap you spent too much money on and walking on surgically-installed robot joints (that you also spent a lot of money on) and still being followed by cash-starved hangers-on who don't realize you're no longer a fountain of money that can pay for whatever stupid pair of shoes they're looking to buy and they feel they're owed because you were friends back in third grade.
Is it all worth it?
Yes! Pro athletes get paid millions of dollars to play a sport. Want some cheese with that whine?
Hire a money manager, enjoy the robotic limbs for the cool accessories they are, and kick the entourage to the curb and back to food stamps and armed robbery. Sit back, drink a margarita, and call ESPN to get the traditional retired-athlete talking head gig and start ranting about how these whipper-snappers are playing the game the wrong way.