When I was a child, I would watch as much baseball as I could with my father and older sister. Back then; baseball was all about the players and the numbers. It was a simple equation, of which big contracts and steroids were not factors.
We also knew some simple things; Tony Gwynn would always be a member of the Padres; George Brett would never stray from the Royals, Don Mattingly was a Yankee forever, and so on and so on. I watched each game knowing all the players, what teams they played for and their order in the lineup. All I had to do was sit back and enjoy the game.
And baseball was the gateway drug to a whole world of sporting events to enjoy.
Of course, there was the New York Giants and watching Joe Morris run an 80+ yard touchdown with one shoe off in 1986. And as a wrestling fan, I learned to enjoy both the New York Knicks and Rangers, because I had to wait for their games to finish before Hulk Hogan would entertain me in my living room.
Out of all the sporting events I enjoyed, wrestling was my one escape from statistics and the simplicity of the game. Because it was scripted, wrestling was something you enjoyed for the story and not the outcome, which was predetermined.
Despite wrestlers being great athletes who busted their butts each day to make fans happy, wrestling fans had to hide their shame for fear of being ostracized by their friends, who would rather argue Mets or Yankees; not whether or not Hulk Hogan would keep his title at Wrestlemania 3.
Fast forward many years later and now, it is almost a shame to be a sports fan. The players we cheer on for one team are suddenly playing for another team and we’re now supposed to cheer against them. Big money contracts have made team loyalty a thing of the past; not just for the players, but for New Yorkers who now cheer on the Lakers and the Celtics, because they paid the most money for big name contracts. In 2010, if the Knicks get LeBron James, the fans who didn’t show up at Madison Square Garden all season will suddenly recall the times when they cheered their Knicks on in 1994.
Sports is no longer fun to watch, because it is hard to keep track of your favorite players and whether or not they are next in line to be busted for steroids. Big business has destroyed the game. Players now have to find new ways to compete and while this crackdown on steroids could clean up sports, what it is really doing is making players discover new ways to cover up the muscle enhancing drugs they are still taking to compete for the big money contract they are sure to get from another team.
Charles Barkley made a comment about how steroids have no place in basketball and he is right. Strength is not the most important aspect of basketball. So, one would think basketball would be safe from the drama. Nope. Now, a referee scandal is breaking out and no matter how hard commissioner David Stern tries to make it look like the acts of a desperate man, the whole scandal amounts to the pink elephant in the room; we all knew it was there, it just took someone to point it out.
Basketball has been suspect forever; how some teams get called for fouls more than others and how some star players are allowed that extra step. Can anyone tell me that Charles Smith was not fouled in that Game 5 melee against the Chicago Bulls in 1993? Would the NBA make more money with Michael Jordan in the finals or Patrick Ewing? You be the judge. At least Vince McMahon admits his product is staged.
And if refs in the NBA are being accused of rigging games in favor of big business, what about the big business of NCAA basketball? With PSAL games getting the prime time attention it has been getting lately, how long before the stank of corrupt referees trickles down to the high school level?
And let’s not get into how high school athletes are being corrupted by big league teams who should not be drafting such young players. No one should be playing professional sports without some college level experience. They’re just not ready.
Remember when sports was simply who won and who lost; who hit the home run; who scored the winning basket; who made the big catch? What happened?