Saturday, September 1, 2007

I used to be a sports fan...

After school, while my sisters glued themselves to soap operas on the big color console in the living room, I would hole up in my folks’ bedroom and watch the Cubs on their little black and white portable. Tweak the rabbit ears now and then to clear the snow or squiggly lines from the screen. Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau brought the game to life for me: Ernie Banks, Glen Beckert, Don Kessinger, Ron Santo. I knew their numbers, their positions, their stats.

Summer of ’71 and ’72, a high school girlfriend and I used to ride the Skokie Swift to the Howard Street El, and the El down to the Addison Street station—"1/4 block from Wrigley Field"—to lay out our dollar for a bleacher seat. We braved the scorching mid-summer sun, dodged the sloshing beers and stretched for (or ducked from) home run balls hammered in our direction (an Ernie Banks homer landed two rows behind my head!) No price was too high to show our loyalty to our perennial underdogs.

In the eighties, I discovered football. Actually, I discovered that if I wanted to have any contact at all with my young husband during four months of fall and winter Sundays, I had better learn about football. Not only did I learn, I found I loved the game. Walter Payton and the Monsters of the Midway could make football fanatics out of anyone.

Sports used to be…something. Something to love. Something to admire. Something to cheer for. Something that at least suggested loyalty and sacrifice, teamwork and camaraderie. Gifted young athletes found homes with teams they loved, and fans who doted on them. They would play out their careers in the towns where they were first accepted as talented youngsters and then cheered on as seasoned stars.

All that is like some soppy little fairy story now. Twenty-first century professional sport is about coddled super-stars who act like God’s gift to the game. It’s about meanness and aggression and performance-enhancing drugs and winning at all costs. But mostly, like everything else in American society, it’s All About The Money. Obscene amounts of the stuff are heaped upon grown men who basically make a living playing kids’ games. A professional ballplayer these days can earn the equivalent of my husband’s yearly salary in one at-bat. Thenturn around and use that cash to buy drugs or sex, or bet on killer dogs. And then cop a surly attitude when someone has the gall to suggest a pro athlete is a role model for young fans, and said athlete might possibly consider curbing his salacious behavior in deference thereto.

And so I was chagrined, but not surprised, when I heard about the 21-year-old kid from New York who dove for Barry Bonds’ historic (albeit steroid-tainted) 756th home run ball. Was it the thrill of a lifetime for him? Does he plan to have it mounted, display it with pride on his mantel, treasure it to show off to his kids and their kids and maybe their kids as well?

Hell no. He’s going to auction it off. Online. He figures a cool half-mil ought to compensate him adequately for relinquishing this incredibly important piece of baseball memorabilia.

Oh…and his story is that he can’t afford to keep the ball. Seems "somebody" told him he would have to pay taxes on the value of his historic souvenir if he kept it, and he’s just a poor college student. HE doesn’t have that kind of money! Sniff! He says he hopes whoever buys the ball will donate it to the Hall of Fame…

Okay, kid…so you’re reluctantly parting with your treasure so you won’t have to max out your student VISA to pay the taxes on it. Nice try…great yarn. But, hey…why don’t YOU donate it? If your tax story held any water, you could claim the ultimate charitable deduction on your 1040 come January. Hell, you might not have to pay taxes for the next ten years!

Let’s face it, son. You grew up watching Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens and Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick. You’ve soaked up every valuable life-lesson these anti-role-models have spewed to their adoring fans. You know exactly what it’s all about.

It’s All About The Money.


  1. I grew up in a state that has not one professional team. Except for the Ky Colonel's in the late 60's early 70's. We were close to the Reds and I must admit, I was thrilled when they won back to back world series in the mid 70's. Super Pete Rose, don't ya know! Professional sports are just that, a money making force. Employing, for the majority, over testosteroned muscle headed macho men. Why should we be surprised when the fans (so called) once offered the opportunity shouldn't cash in also. Who was this guy...just someone passingm through who caught a lucky ball. And as they have said, not as valuable as the next one, the one that broke the record.

    Ah, give me the Ky Wildcats and the Lou Cardnials any day over the Colts and the Reds.

  2. Lisa you point out all that is bad about professional sports and you hit the nail right on the head.  I love the games of baseball, basketball, football.  I enjoy a good game.  No, I enjoy a lousy game.  Because for me IT IS about the game.  

    I cringe each time I hear a new salary or deal.  I cringe each time I hear a story such as that young man's.  Not only has he learned each and every miserable value out there in Sports Land, he didn't learn anything from his parents either.

    Tsk. Tsk.

    I watch little professional sports now.  If FREE tickets to our local teams game come our way, we'll go.  But you can bet your bottom dollar, I don't spend any money on tickets myself.  I'll watch on TV, if the spirit moves me.  

    It moves me less and less.  I've discovered that college ball in the fall can be lots of fun.

  3. Great Essay Lisa! You had me waxing nostalgic for the sports of yester-year and nodding in agreeable derision at the jerks of today. Bravo!!!

  4. I agree about the "used to be a sports fan".  I still enjoy the Olympics, but not much else.  I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually Olympics even get ruined.