Monday, June 2, 2008

Action-Reaction: June 1, 2008

Sports: Escape or Microcosm of Life?

Many rags -to-riches stories involving athletes growing up in hard childhoods have one thing in common: sports are used as an escape. In some cases, sports are an escape from drug use which was the original escape from a difficult home life. (In my opinion, using drugs as an “escape” is one of the lamest reasons to use them, right up there with “being cool.” But this is a sports story. Basically kiddies, stay clean and there’s no reason to use them. DIGRESSION!) Anyway, while setting out for my daily run today, I kicked around the following question in my mind: Are sports really an escape from life? Or are they something totally different?

Sports do not provide an escape for an athlete. Instead, they provide a situation that is more easily managed than the athletes own life. Think of the star point guard or the star quarterback battling off the field issues. When they step onto the court or the field, they have almost complete control over the decision-making process, something they do not have in their off the field life. At home, they may be battling a drug addiction or alcohol problems. When they give in to those problems, they lose complete control of their lives and start searching for a new way to gain control of their lives.

This is a double edged sword, too. While the player may now have complete control over what happens, they must take the bad that comes along with the good on the field or court. Off the field, they lack complete control so therefore they do have somewhat of an excuse to blame their problems (albeit not that great of an excuse). But now that they have control on the field, they must take full responsibility for their actions, something they may not be able to do.

Have you noticed that some of the most exciting players in the game run afoul of the law? The one example that comes straight to my mind is that of Adam “Pacman” Jones. When Jones played for the Tennessee Titans, he made some amazing plays. He could break a kick or punt return for a touchdown or intercept a pass and take it all the way back to the yard. However, his on the field playing style was indicative of his off the field lifestyle. His reckless life away from football has made me wonder whether or not how he played the game was how he lived his life. If I were the Dallas Cowboys, it would be interesting to see whether or not Jones’ playing style changes if he has made a complete “turnaround” in his lifestyle. Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was the team’s best red zone target during his tenure with the team. We all remember his big catch in the 2005 Wild-Card Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers where Carson Palmer had his knee infamously rolled over on by Kimo von Olehoffen. Henry was a great player. He could always make the big play. But it seemed he was also trying to make the big play off the field a lot too.

Sports provide a microcosm of life for athletes. Baseball has always been used as a metaphor for life. “You win some, you lose some” is commonly echoed throughout life. You are not going to be able to win all 162 games in a season no matter how much you want to. In life, you are not going to win all the battles you face. You are not going to pass all the tests. Instead, you just pack it up, move out, learn from your mistakes, and try to do better next time.

This also leads into the question of whether or not athletes are actually role models for children, teens, and even older people. The fact is that they are and there is nothing the athlete can do about it. I look at the players and how the face adversity to use as a guide-point for my life. Take Brett Favre and his painkillers addiction in the mid-1990’s. He tried to run from his problem and hide, but eventually it caught up to him and backed him into a corner where he had to confront it head-on. I know a lot of people bring up the fact that he was addicted to pain pills and that a lot of parents would not want their child to look up to a pill-popper, but the fact that he confronted his problem head-on taught me a whole new lesson. I learned that if I run from my problems that they will catch up to me eventually, so it is better to just take them head-on in the first place.

The criteria for kids and their role models should not be what the role model does, but how they respond to their present situations. This is why the situation in the NFL for players being seen as role models is in great peril. When a player gets in a situation they do not like (I’m looking at you Chad Johnson), they kick and scream and demand they get to choose the solution instead of working through the adversity. I am happy to see that the Bengals are not giving in to his demands. When a child sees players like Johnson complaining and moaning to get their own way, it sends a message that if they do not get their own way, they can just complain and throw temper tantrums and they will get their own solution for it. In the real world, that is false.

The athletes need to clean it up.

Excuse the digression.

Your thoughts on whether or not sports are a microcosm or an escape, or if athletes truly are role models are welcome here.

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