Sports has developed an extremely high level of cynicism. Bigger, faster stronger used to talk about the athletic accomplishments on the fields of play, but now seems more apt as a reference to the spectacle, coverage and dollars involved in the sporting industry. Now with the increases in coverage we know more about these athletes than we ever did before, and know it instantly. With the spectacle we encourage the pomp and circus like atmosphere that surround big games and icons. We spend more money than ever before to watch games, be it in person or on tv, along with buying food and drink at games and covering ourselves with team merchandise at a rate never before seen. All these aspects, and many more, have come to cost sports its youth like exuberant innocence and develop that previously stated high level of cynicism.
I don’t believe all that. I think there was plenty to be cynical about in sports before Michael Jordan started playing for Chicago Bulls in the NBA in 1984. The Yankees bought players outright from the cash strapped A’s for years. The NFL first battled steroid issues in the 1970’s. Hockey’s violence has existed since long before the NHL formed in 1917. Mickey Mantle was a self admitted drunk. What has changed now to make us more cynical and sensitive to these things? The coverage. The Yankees beat writers didn’t write about Mantle being drunk after games or hungover during games because they sat and drank with him. They weren’t around Mantle to report on him the person, but him as a baseball player. Glenn Burke a baseball player for the Dodgers and A’s in the late 1970’s was openly gay and talked openly about it with his bosses, teammates and the media, but the media wouldn’t write about that (Barra 1). That’s two examples of how the coverage has changed and that is what colors our perception in a cynical way. We now know within hours when a player is pulled over for driving under the influence and that makes us cynical of athletes in general.
Why does this coverage make us more cynical, because of the spectacle admonished on athletes and the dollars spent by the public and earned by the athlete. We expect more of these athletes because they make so much money and because we turn them into walking statues. In the end though they aren’t meant to be heralded as anything more than what they are, superior athletes gifted on a field of play. It is silly to attach a moral barometer to them, they have been consistently told they are excellent at their sport for as long as they can remember and with that has brought special privileges. If anything these special privileges have done more to take them away from moral behavior and given them a feeling of superiority and exemption from the rules that govern our society. They have never grown up. They are adult sized kids playing kids games.
All that being said there have been athletes that have been worthy of being given icon status, Ted Williams and Muhammad Ali for examples. Williams took peak time away from his baseball career to serve in 2 separate wars. Ali fought for religious freedom from military service and lost 4 prime years of his boxing career. Every athlete shouldn’t be asked to live to an amazing standard though just because they make a lot of money.
I do think sports can and will affect change in the world. Jackie Robinson changed the world when he broke baseball’s color barrier. Billie Jean King helped breakdown lines drawn between male and female athletes when she won “The Battle of the Sexes”. While the cynicism will continue to exist in sports, when the athletes who are also great people, like Williams, Ali, Robinson, Jean King, choose to use their stature to affect change they will. NBA player Jason Collins announced in 2013 he was gay, and unlike when Glenn Burke talked about it, Jason Collins story was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That was an instance of the beginning of change.