Sunday, January 6, 2008

In 2007: Poor Sports

The Beckham’s $250 million Los Angeles vacation, Barry Bonds’ controversial homerun record and indictment for perjury and abstruction of justice, and Michael Vick’s plea to federal charges of dog-fighting all indicate 2007’s most disturbing trend in the world of sport. Where legend holds that once players longed only for the satisfaction of victory and the title of “Champion,” we have more recently lamented that the only modern ideal left in sports are the mind-boggling contracts offered to those willing to (in the salary cap era) trade winning seasons for obscene amounts of money. And that really was fine by us. After all, if these men could run faster, jump higher, and hit harder than anybody else, why shouldn’t they be entitled to a proportionally greater share of the insane profits reaped by their respective leagues? Revenues reached new heights, ages old pastimes were revitalized for new generations, and we got used to unpronounceably long names for our stadiums and teams to draw those extra bucks. Life was maybe a little less innocent, but we were generally happy with it all the same.

While it’s tempting to get wrapped up in the issues surrounding Bonds’ alleged abuse of performance enhancers when he belted his 756th homer in 2007, the greater question still remains why exactly he would choose to do so. By all accounts, prior to suspicion of wrongdoing he was one of the greatest hitters in the game’s history, and would have retired with many of baseball’s offensive records (if, perhaps, not the mythical 751.) When the Beckham(TM) media blitz descended on the US, every cross-cultural touchstone possible was employed to obscure the fact that he was, you know, getting old. At Becks’ age, his skills might not exactly be degrading, but his game will certainly never have the flashy hyper-athleticism required to capture the attention of an American audience for those Galaxy games played between prioritized stints with England’s national team. And most publicized of all, Michael Vick’s involvement in dog-fighting show the darkest side of the competitive drive, wherein a successful young man whose livelihood is wrought from organized brutality every day is summarily drawn to even the most gruesome and cruel modes of contest for his off-time thrills.

The drive for individual glory has always been present in professional sports, but in 2007 the chasing of Glory broke new boundaries of personal ethics. Bonds’ pursuit of unnatural immortality came at the costs of sacrificing his own knees as well as the public’s ability to actually like or care about him as a man. Beckham’s last big score seems now nothing less than a callous attempt to stretch the global brand for one more run at stateside relevance (and dollars.) And Vick’s 23 month prison sentence shuts the door on a phenomenal talent’s potential for achievement in the game he (and we) loved above all others. If nothing else, 2007 will be the year that makes us long for the days when our biggest complaints were a lack of fundamentals and that the kids were being paid too damned much money.


Steven Simunic said...


2007 was home to the Boise State game, which was simply the most amazing thing the sporting world has ever (or will ever) see. So I'll give 2007 a wee bit more leeway here.

And "the human downfall of sport" is a tag that should be used more often, frankly.

Brendan K. said...

But c'mon! It's PTA! And DDL! And Johnny Greenwood!

Why can't we have another "Giant?"

Disappointing news.