The world of sports has been consumed by greed. These days, organizations like the NCAA, NFL, and MLB are all businesses to the core. It’s all about the big TV deals, squeezing every last dime from fans, and then crying poor in order to contain the ridiculous salaries of star players. It’s because of this mentality that the focus has shifted from enjoying grueling competition to a Hollywood-like rendering of what sports should look like.
This new face of sports is the sole reason that few college and professional athletes live for the game anymore. It’s all about scoring the contract, not about playing to win. Thankfully, there is still a small sliver of hope out there with talented, young athletes—such as Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels—who don’t publicly express their issues to the media and continue to play with passion. (Trout’s salary currently sits below $500,000.)
But players like Trout aren’t enough to redeem the lack of integrity within the realm of sports. If you were to go on ESPN’s website at this very moment, I can promise you that at least six out of the 11 headline stories have nothing to do with a game, and everything to do with a person’s ego. Phrases like, “LeBron, Heat on Bulls: We don’t like them” and “Meriweather vows to hit knees, rips Marshall” plague the sports world.
Putting aside any “he said, she said” stories, the increased severity of sports scandals is disturbing, to say the least. This past Monday, Penn State announced that it will pay $59.7 million in claims over the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. For any Penn State fan, the past two years have been tough to digest. There’s no doubt in my mind that John Heisman is turning over in his grave right now.
Penn State is just one example among many of how the face of sports has changed, as the number of off-field incidents within professional sports has also increased. Within the past year, we’ve had big names like Jovan Belcher, Oscar Pistorious, and Aaron Hernandez own the spotlight for weeks on end and for the worst of reasons—not because they made a great play or broke a record.
Going back even further, multiple sports legends have crashed and burned over the past five years, such as Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods—the latter of whom just lost a video game contract with EA Sports. (Though to be fair, infidelity often comes with strong repercussions.)
What is often forgotten is that athletes set the bar high. They are role models for many people, especially kids. Maintaining an honest image—one that reflects positively on themselves, their teammates, their organizations, and their families—is part of the territory. It should be the expectation, not merely a nice bonus. (As my coach would often remind me, “Stop goofing around and start acting like an athlete”—in different words, of course.) Athletes should take pride in what they do, because it provides them with the opportunity to be a part of something honorable.
Unfortunately, honesty and respect come as double standards. Certain athletes who even attempt to express individuality on the field are immediately reprimanded due to other athletes’ lack of class off of it. On Monday night, Seattle Seahawks’ wide receiver Golden Tate made a phenomenal catch for a touchdown and celebrated by waving to the safety on the opposing team as he cruised into the end zone. Tate was immediately punished with a penalty for taunting and was subjected to a Pete Carroll scolding. Give me a break.
I’m all for sportsmanship, but having a good time in a game shouldn’t be something to criticize. Athletes’ true characters are tested off the field based on how they represent themselves in everyday life.
Nowadays, it has simply become a struggle to wake up every morning and hear the sports news. Half the time, I end up sitting and shaking my head at the TV while my eggs get cold. It’s sad and disheartening to see selfishness and the need to be in the limelight taint the world of sports. We need to get our priorities straight. What do we actually want from our favorite athletes?
Ryan Turner is a Columbia College sophomore. He is a former member of the men’s swimming and diving team. Blood, Sweat, and Cheers runs biweekly.