Sunday, January 3, 2010
E is for ESPN
It’s not a secret that I love sports. Or, as my wife would put it, it’s not a secret that I am obsessed with sports. Put it this way: I love sports. My first word was ball, and I was not referring to a dance. As a child, I played some sport every day, whether it was basketball, football, baseball, tennis, golf, volleyball, ping-pong, or whatever—you get the point.
However, I am built like a hobbit. So, naturally, I never quite made it in any particular sport (but I should point out that I am adequate to mediocre at over thirty-four sports). In my latter years, I have resorted to merely being adequate to mediocre at viewing and analyzing sports. This is where ESPN comes in. I don’t just love sports, I love the sports culture. I love sports news, statistics, sports history, sports trivia, sports personalities, sports psychology, and sports religion. Okay, I made that last one up, but (again) you get the point. ESPN gives me all of those things. It’s sunup to sundown nonstop sports.
(It’s also not a secret that if I was all alone in a vacuum, I would watch ESPN an inordinate amount. However, playing the role of a responsible adult, husband, and father has forced me to limit my viewership of all things sports. But know that when I am able, I’m likely to be watching Sports Center.)
The sun set on 2009 this past week. Did you see that headline? With it passed my single least favorite sports year ever. Let’s try to explain why in one paragraph. My three favorite athletes ever are Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, and (excuse me while I clear my throat) Tiger Woods. This past year, Michael exposed his egomania during his hall of fame speech, Andre exposed in his new book that he wore hair-extensions (not to mention took meth and hates tennis), and Tiger has simply exposed himself to too many people (and lets just leave it at that). My two least favorite sports teams (Lakers and Yankees) both won their respective championships. My two least favorite athletes currently playing (Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez) were the heroes of those championships. The highlights on ESPN for a solid year have felt like some odd horror flick. There are multiple other reasons why last year stunk for me in sports, but (again) you get the point.
Let’s quickly refresh: It’s not a secret that I love sports and ESPN a little too much, and 2009 was a very crappy year for me. Here’s something that is a secret: I’m starting to fall out of love with sports. Well, actually, I’m falling out of love with the sports culture. Why? For one thing, I realized in 2009 more than any other year that sports is a business. And like virtually all big businesses, it is corrupt. At least professional sports are. Even ESPN, the biggest sports news agency in the world, is just a business. They have vested interests. Money drives their programming, sponsorships, and all other corporate relationships. In other words, they’re like all other news organizations. They claim to be unbiased when any reasonable person can see that it is both logically and economically unlikely.
Any reasonable person can also tell you that the BCS is, plain and simple, crooked. And yet nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. It’s essentially athletic mercantilism, and the captains of the BCS are currently holding school presidents and football fans (and basically anyone who loves good entertainment) hostage because they’re “contractually” able to do so. How am I supposed to love college football when it is run by a bunch of crooks? Not to mention: The NFL is chalk-full of cocky hoodlums I wouldn’t trust to watch my daughter for a minute, Baseball is full of cheaters, NASCAR is stupid, Michael Phelps is a pothead, the UFC is barbaric and nasty, and the NBA is headlined by Kobe. Again, you get the point.
Speaking of Kobe, any reasonable person can also tell you that he is arrogant, self-absorbed, conniving, and that he is an admitted rapist (By the way, when I say “reasonable person,” I am referring to myself. Look, this is my blog). However, go turn on ESPN. Watch what happens when Kobe’s name is brought up. He’ll be lauded as one of the greatest human beings to ever walk this earth. Over a decade as a proven lousy teammate, a petty diva, and a morally inept individual hasn’t dissuaded ESPN from turning a blind eye in favor of the now. The same people who told me five years ago that he is just not a good guy are now telling me that he is, in fact, a great guy. Why? Because he has won lots of games (not to mention gotten the benefit of having the undisputed best supporting cast in the entire league and the most successful coach of all time, and the benefit of 99 out of every 100 questionable calls). It’s not that I don’t believe ESPN when they tell me how great he is, it’s just that I can’t help but notice that their ratings go up (and with it their profits) when Kobe and his Lakers are on ESPN.
In all fairness, Kobe’s personal flaws aren’t without company in professional sports. Other than the crooks on capital hill, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more morally destitute majority in any profession than those in sports. Name a crime and I can find a prominent athlete who committed that crime last year. You could make a game show out of it (“I’ll take Arson for 400”). And yet every time I turn on the TV I see a promo for another inspiring true life movie about sports. How is this? The sports culture has become a dichotomy of virtue and vice, a constant highlight reel juxtaposed with both the David who killed Goliath and the David who had an affair with Bath-sheba. But there is still virtue in sports. And it is still very entertaining.
In my opinion, as corrupt as sports culture has become, they are still one of life’s greatest forums for valuable lessons. Lessons of perseverance, heart, integrity, passion, love, teamwork, and all kinds of other words found in self-help books. In other words, as corrupt as the sporting world is, I still love the life lessons that spawn from nearly every single sporting event. I’ve learned that athletes are not the role models, but merely the guinea pigs. Cut and paste any athlete and put them on the court, rink, field, or pitch, and you’re bound to get valuable lessons, and very good entertainment. Horror flick or not, sports are still fun to watch.
That’s how it was in 2009, and that’s how it will be in 2010. But still, I would rather sports not stink so much this time around the sun. As we begin this new year I am optimistic. For one thing, we have the Winter Olympics next month (don’t worry, I’ll write plenty about that when it comes). For another thing, we have the World Cup, which I am inexplicably more excited about than anything else this year in sports multiplied by four. Things are looking up for me.
One last thing. My wife loves New Year’s resolutions. When she asked me what mine were this year, I said that I hate them and didn’t have any. After she gave me a look of disgust, I regretfully resolved to stop disappointing her. And so, to you my faithful blog readers (That’s right, I’m talking to both of you), here is my New Year’s resolution regarding ESPN and sports. I resolve to simply enjoy sports for the value they have to offer, and to do my best to ignore its cultural filth. I resolve to spend a little more time with my family at the expense of sports (Excluding the World Cup, of course). And I resolve to get over my hatred of Kobe Bryant. Hmmm . . . maybe that one can wait until next year.
Today’s recommendation: Play sports. If you don’t have a sport you are actively participating in, find one. Exercising is fun and all, but it is much easier to do when coupled with sports.