Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Sports Apocalypse

Here's another article I wrote applying for a Freep article that I think most people will find interesting (especially my theory at the end). Check it out. The article carries even more weight in light of the Patriots signal stealing scandal.

Professional sports in America are in deep trouble. In the last month alone, there have been three major events that could change the history of US sports forever. Whether it was the Tim Donaghy National Basketball Association Referee Scandal, Michael Vick and the dog fighting fiasco, or Barry Bonds and the new home run record, it has Been Bad News Bears all over American sports. Now there are even rumors that steroids are being used in golf. In the National Hockey League, there may not be an end-all event, but the league now has primetime games being played on a small network having an identity crisis. (The Outdoor Life Network has become Versus.)

With all these things happening, profits for these sports are in jeopardy. Michael Vick may want to lay off the daily double for now, because his future could involve a serious pay cut in his contract, and it has already lost him millions in endorsements and even the support of many fans. He could face up to a year in prison, and even with a plea bargain, he would still most likely miss the entire 2007 season. His absence in the Atlanta offense will definitely destroy any game plans Head Coach Bobby Petrino has of centering his run game around his play caller. It hurts the Falcons franchise for having such a person on their team. It hurts the whole National Football League for the same reasons. Vick’s status as an NFL star is almost certainly destroyed.

As if one huge player controversy wasn’t enough, the most hallowed record in United States sports was broken by the perfect storm of negative attention. Barry Bonds, the all-time home run champ, has his post-1998 career is a shroud of questions and asterisks. He told a Grand Jury that he has never willingly taken steroids, but the difference in his performance is obvious. He was a 40-homer-a-year player before the “magical” summer of 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa could do no wrong. After being overshadowed by Ken Griffey Junior as the face of baseball in the early 1990s, and McGwire and Sosa in 1998, Bonds faced a tough decision: should he take steroids and immediately steal the spotlight, or should he continue to be the future Hall-of-Fame quality player without any scientific help? He chose the former (as did many other players of the time), and baseball has never been the same. Bonds could have been a hero in a time of many villains by playing substance free. Instead he made himself public enemy #1 thanks to his lack of respect for the game of baseball. He alienated himself even more by the way he acted towards the media and even more so the public. It’s easy to pick on him for what he did, and I personally don’t agree that he is a worthy record holder. However, one has to think hard about this Bonds character. He reminds me of Matt Damon’s character in The Departed. He is faced with an extremely tough decision, and unfortunately makes the wrong one. In some ways, he didn’t have much of a choice.

The combination of Vick and Bonds brings up an even more sensitive issue in American culture. Both Bonds and Vick are African-American, which should have nothing to do with the way these cases are treated. However, in a society where every crime suspect on the news is a young black man, it only makes African-Americans as a whole look even worse. On top of that, it makes Americans in general look bad to themselves and other countries for thinking that way. The only thing that somewhat keeps this feeling in check is the Caucasian NBA referee, Tim Donaghy.

Donaghy got himself into a sticky situation with organized crime, and there’s still some residue on his slacks. He plead guilty to gambling on NBA games with privileged information, and even worse, fixing many of the games he bet on. He could very well be a catalyst in the integrity check the NBA is about to go under. With huge officiating issues in both the 2006 and 2007 Playoffs (whether it was Dwayne Wade And-oneing his way to an NBA Finals Championship last year or the horrific Spurs-Suns series this year), Donaghy’s confession only confirms the worst. It will expand the curiosity of both the fans and hard-nosed commissioner David Stern. With the way the tide eerily turned in many games in recent memory, each and every referee will be questioned, and even accused of the same charges by some people. Much like the steroids issue in baseball, fixed games will ruin the credibility of all parties involved.

Whether your favorite team sport is football, baseball, or basketball, it’s having the roughest period it has faced in years. Even the morals of our society are being put in check by the happenings in our favorite pastimes. To end on a lighter, less Chicken-Little note, this could mean something positive for a few million Chicago sports fans. If there’s one year I had to bet on the Cubs to win the World Series, it would be this year. Without even considering the new look they have, a sports apocalypse calls for nothing short of the end of a 99 year drought. Go Cubbies!

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