Calling a timeout: How much is too much when it comes to our sports obsessions?
By Amolak Singh
Robert Griffin III and Dwyane Wade drinking Gatorade.
LeBron James wearing Nike.
Troy Polamalu using Head & Shoulders.
Aaron Rodgers selling State Farm Insurance.
Joe Mauer promoting Kemps.
Teenagers are often told to value hard-working Americans such as teachers and police officers over athletes. Adrian Peterson isn’t paid to be your role model. Look to someone in your own life.
However, five minutes of watching TV commercials proves the opposite.
We’re a sports crazed society. We go nuts over the achievements of professional athletes—even college and high schoolers—and often fail to pay attention to the boring, everyday accomplishments of those devoted to protect and teach us.
I get that it isn’t an either/or proposition. Sports is a beautiful thing. It can unite people from all backgrounds and often promotes teamwork and character building. Sports organizations also commit tons of resources to community service and worthwhile causes.
Simply put, it’s mind-blowing to watch the few thousand people who, in peak physical shape, can perform in a way most of us could only dream about.
I’m guilty, too. As an avid sports fan, I’d be lying if I said that sports didn’t consume a large chunk of my social time. I check scores on my smartphone as often as I can, and a good portion of my wardrobe is made up of shirts and jerseys of my favorite college and professional teams. One of the first websites I visit every day is ESPN.com. I go crazy over awesome dunks and ridiculous plays. I’m a part of this sports obsessed culture as much as anybody.
And that’s the real problem—that we love sports too much. Our collective focus on athletes and our favorite teams is so intense that it throws our priorities out of order and sometimes causes us to do foolish (even dangerous) things.
WE’RE TO BLAME
One way to see how we value sports is to look at the paychecks of professional athletes. According to Yahoo Sports, the average NFL player gets paid $1.9 million dollars a year. That’s how much the average American would make in 45 years. Also, the average NBA player makes about $67,000 a game—or $3,500 a minute. The average teacher in Minnesota gets paid $53,680 a year.
True, these athletes get paid a ton because of their highly specialized skill set. But these huge disparities also exist because of our priorities. We consider an entertainment industry—professional sports—to be more valuable than something essential—like education or our safety—which is an unsustainable and unrealistic way to run our society.
Then again, we live in a society where most sports fans can rattle off the last 10 Super Bowl winners but might struggle to name the current vice-president. Or who are angered and frustrated more by a league lockout than the government shutdown.
Yet while it’s easy to blame super rich athletes or super rich owners that dole out loads of cash, it’s still ignoring the real cause of the overwhelming importance given to athletic achievements over, say, academics.
It seems hypocritical for us to criticize athletes for making so much money, for acting so self-important, when we’re the ones who spend hundreds buying apparel or attending live sporting events. We idolize them. Are in awe of them.
On top of that hero worship, think about all the time we spend watching these athletes on TV. How much we talk about them. We even have multiple 24-hour specialized sports channels, not to mention that 21 of the most viewed events on TV are Super Bowls.
NOT ROLE MODELS
In addition, we unfairly hold athletes to a higher standard of morality and treat them as role models when they aren’t that different from the rest of us. Yes, they are humans who can run the mile in four and a half minutes or consistently shoot a basketball into a hoop 30 feet away. But does that mean they should be scrutinized more? That they should get away with more?
For example, take the case of Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winner nicknamed “Johnny Football.”
Earlier this year, he was allegedly caught signing autographs for money, which is against college regulations. Yet his punishment was that he couldn’t play half of a meaningless game. That accomplished nothing, but instead told him that he’s important because of his athletic gifts.
Manziel is not the only one at fault for thinking he is above the system. His every move is documented on ESPN. His Twitter page is endlessly dissected. Fans buy up his college jersey and turn him into a golden god on campus. He’s not even 21 years old!
This sort of entitlement culture has negative effects on our society. First of all, it encourages young kids and teenagers to adopt athletes as role models simply because of their athletic prowess. Academics almost never get talked about.
WHERE IT STARTS
The cause of such a drastic disparity starts in school. For the most part, in elementary and middle school, coaches, parents and teachers always talk about how playing sports is about having fun and developing life skills. Then, once kids enter high school, the focus completely changes. Playing sports is about performance—and therefore winning. Everything else is second. How does this change happen so dramatically?
In high school, students and coaches know that they are being watched by colleges, and that they might have a shot at being recruited or even earning a scholarship. That puts a lot of pressure on student athletes, who then focus on how to optimize their performance and win.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Rashad Vaughn, one of the top high school basketball players in the nation. At the time, he was going to Robbinsdale Cooper High School. However, toward the end of the year, he transferred to a prep school for select basketball players just outside Las Vegas.
For high schoolers with exceptional athletic talent, fun doesn’t come first. Vaughn transferred because he would be surrounded by better coaches and players, the national spotlight that much brighter. He’ll probably spend a few years in college. and if he’s lucky, go to the pros where he’ll get some expensive endorsements and contracts.
Where do academics fit in? Your guess is as good as mine.
CAN WE CHANGE?
If we really think that athletics are unfairly valued more than academics, if we think that teachers are just as important (if not more) than hockey players, then we should find a way to change that. Blaming athletes for promoting the superior status we give to athletic skills and achievements does nothing but ignore the real issues.
If we really believe that professional athletes aren’t as important as educators, then we have to actually show that.
If we don’t like a college kid like Manziel acting pampered, then maybe we should treat him just like any other kid on campus getting a degree.
If we want the valedictorian and the star linebacker to be equally proud of their accomplishments, then we should recognize them as equals—and not put one on national television simply because he sells tickets and makes the Alabama or Ohio State coaches drool.