Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When Sports Mirrors Politics

There aren't too many things I miss about my childhood. I was glad to shed myself of curfews, weekly allowances, and limitations on how far I could ride my bike. That being said, the last few weeks have indeed caused me to lament on something I've lost since becoming an adult: A fondness for professional athletics.

It probably began a long time ago, but it really hit home last month when a professional wrestler killed his wife and son before committing suicide in his home. As a child there was no doubt in my mind that everything I saw on WWF (not WWE) pay-per-views was legitimate. Maybe I just had a great imagination (and I did); but it's more likely that I didn't want to know that it was staged.

Chris Benoit was never my favorite wrestler, but I can't say that I ever cared a whole lot about Michael Vick, NBA referees, or Barry Bonds either. As Bonds looks to pass Hank Aaron's all-time home run record (he is three shy of passing him as of Monday), I get the feeling that most people would rather discuss the controversy than the record. And I'm one of them.

One of the greatest records in sports history is about to fall, and it's more than just a bit ironic that most professional sports organizations are embroiled in one controversy or another at the time. Bonds may have used steroids to boost his home run totals, and I'm one of the many people who feel that an asterisk should appear next to his name because of it. But the fact that we're discussing the controversy instead of the feat says something about sports today. Or does it?

Michael Vick has been indicted for his role in dog fights, and during last night's CNN presidential primary debate, MSNBC was talking about Vick instead of politics. An NBA referee is being investigated by the FBI for betting on the games he officiated. Again, it's appeared elsewhere than just ESPN.

Growing up, I remember the sports, not the controversies. I remember Brett Favre winning a Super Bowl when I was in the fifth grade, but I don't really remember his brief stint in rehab over his addiction to painkillers.

I remember the race for the single-season home run record between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa--I don't remember the steroid discussion then, or the MLB strike a few years earlier.

So maybe nothing has changed. Maybe I've changed. And that's a little frightening. Controversy has always existed in sports, but as children, we don't care about the politics. We care about the championships and the memories of fun times at the ballpark.

Hopefully children today will have something good to remember, too. Like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

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