Sports, They are something

I cried on January 22, 1983.  My then favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, lost to the San Francisco Forty-Niners in dramatic Joe Montana fashion.  A year earlier on March 29, 1982, I felt just as much emotion.  This time it was the opposite because my beloved University of North Carolina Tar Heel Men’s Basketball team had won the national championship in equally dramatic fashion.

I wish I could go back to that 8 and 9 year old child’s attitude towards sports.  It was pure.  The games were pure, the players were pure.  Everything was hopeful and everyone seemed to give a damn.

If you’ve been one of the three people who have read any of my posts, you have probably noticed my disappointment in what sports are.  I did not say, “…in what sports have become,” because I suspect sports have always on some level been this disappointing once you skipped past the surface, but we did not know as much.

I do not want to say we know too much, but knowing as much as we do takes away the mystery and some of the joy.  Mickey Mantle was a tragic hero beset by injuries.  Now, we know he was a drunk whose alcoholism exacerbated the failings of his career.

However, how much more do we really know.  We know how dirty, greedy, and hypocritical sports are at every level.  I suspect we don’t know even of half the real dirt that goes down.  Players and teams all have their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to get out the information they want us to have and to hide that which they don’t.  We have more information, but are we really learning anything more.

We do know more with statistics.  With computers and instant communication we have to ability to break down a player and his play into quantifiable numbers.  This is actually helpful up to a point.  That point is when you actually put players on the field.  That is why it works best in baseball.  It is the easiest sport to statistically breakdown for individual players because all the skills needed to be successful in baseball are individual and discrete skills performed in isolation from others.  Football, basketball, and soccer are sports each individual’s performance is based upon the performance of the other players around him, making it harder to use advanced statistics effectively.  That is the next frontier of sports statistics.

We also don’t get to know the players as well because of free agency.  Players deserve the freedom to move to a different team for more money, a better chance to win, or just to live in a different place.  However, in life, for everything you gain, you must give up something.  In this case freedom of movement means the loss of a more intimate fan/player relationship.  There is something special about watching a young draft pick grow from a boy to a man, literally.  Now, instead of players we have brands.  Today’s athletes sometimes seem merely like conglomerations of advertisements that blow into your town for a few years before moving on to sell more stuff somewhere else.

That is how I feel in my more cynical moments.  Then I’ll sit down and start watching a game and something amazing/interesting/funny happens and I can almost see that kid sitting in his grandmother’s house crying as Dwight Clark spikes the ball in the back of the end zone.

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