With the onslaught of negative sports stories in the press recently, JP Pelosi wonders what the impact will be on his son’s future fandom.
Nobody told me sports fandom might factor into parenting. There was nothing about it in the What To Expect books.
So in the playful conversations I’m having with my baby son about the prospects of “our” favorite teams, I’m doing more second guessing than the Portland Trailblazers on draft day.
You see, as both a sports fan and a new parent, it recently dawned on me how many sports stories each day are disturbingly negative. Let’s just say it’s more than the number of times the word ‘Tebow’ is tweeted in an hour. (Incidentally, I heard that every time someone tweets Tebow an angel gets his wings.)
Anyway, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to throw on a ref’s shirt for a few minutes, and like Ed Hochuli on Sundays, flex my muscles on a few decisions we need to make together.
Somewhere among the apparently endless number of drug cheats, perverts, self-promoters, crooks, crazies and social media bullies in pro sports, there are presumably some winning touchdowns and walk-off homers, right? Some positive stuff—remember?
With both kinds of headlines now occupying the same space—let’s call them victories and vices—the filtering of sports has become very difficult. This matters because what was once viewed mostly in isolation, for enjoyment, now requires us to be not just sports fans, but ethicists, moralizers, minsters and monks.
And all we wanted was a box score!
It’s true that some pro athletes are setting fairly poor standards for our kids, and we need to be aware of them. But the media is also trawling for the worst stories it can find to exacerbate the situation. They’re essentially applying the Kardashian strategy to sports: show the audience a Dash store opening, but couple it with Kourtney’s bikini top popping off in Bermuda. The two are equally important and no longer mutually exclusive, or so I’m led to believe.
Maybe to some people in this age of endless content, no news is good news because non-news makes the best type of news, if you follow my meaning. The lines are so blurred I’m going to need a replay system to understand what I just wrote.
Let’s take a breath and back track for a moment. I’ve loved sports as long as I can remember, mostly because of the meaning I associate with them from my childhood. My dad taught me how to play soccer from about the age of five, and from what I can tell from the old sepia photos he’s shown me, he was the type of athlete you didn’t want to match up with. He taught me a lot about soccer and, because of early joys and successes I had with the game, I was inspired to always be involved in sports. Anyone who’s had a similarly positive sporting experience with their parents knows what I’m talking about.
Those same people might also feel their memories are oddly disconnected from their current experience of watching pro sports, mostly because of the constantly negative conversations around them, which can involve instances of racism, cheating, bullying, violence and greed. I don’t remember it being this bad when I was a kid, probably because we were less exposed to the minute-to-minute drudge. Today you could be forgiven for thinking anyone associated with pro sports is either a criminal or at least an accessory to deplorable behavior. And it’s therefore hard to see my young son entering into his own sports fandom amid all this, should he be interested in doing so.
We’re mostly drawn into these concerns by the 24-7 media outlets, muckraking bloggers, and trolling tweeters, who pull good guys in and spit them out like the Death Star. But not everyone floating around the galaxy can be reduced to a headline. Regardless, these folks are relentless. They want us to know everything about the likes of, pick a name—Dwight Howard, so that we can presumably join in on their pious crusade to prove a piece of speculation.
While some topics are valid discussions for us all to have and shouldn’t be dismissed—like Riley Cooper’s racial slur for instance—other things like where your favorite quarterback went out for dinner last night, which model your team’s second baseman is dating, or the juvenile rap-sheet of the league’s best sixth man, have all become alarmingly important. This is weird. Blame it on the competition for pageviews, global warming, or Mark Sanchez’s lack of pocket presence, the trend is not slowing down any time soon.
This bothers me, not just because the broader media is stooping to new lows to win our attention, but because these are sports narratives that unnecessarily confuse our kids’ enjoyment of watching sports on the whole. The chief hurdle here is that so many spin doctors are on board, from the smallest website to the largest network news channel. Controversy and celebrity sell and, while we’ve all become accustomed to it, I think we sometimes forget what effect this might have on our children.
Fortunately, I never had to deal with the inundation of peripheral sports media because I grew up in the 80s when it was harder to know what sweet nothings Larry Bird might have whispered to Magic Johnson under the hoop. I think it was better that way. As long as Bird wasn’t holding up a liquor store or beating his wife, why did I need to know any more than that I admired his talent and effort?
Okay, we can’t turn back the clock, but we can strive for something better.
This discussion means so much more to me as a new dad because I’m thinking about sports differently now, and how my son will relate to them, and how the media talks about adult athletes particularly. In today’s sporting climate, that is, the way its presented to us, there are so many more angles to consider and I want him to know how to navigate it all. I wish I knew how, to be frank.
Ultimately, he won’t be able to avoid many of the unsavory elements of pro sports as he grows up. They’ll be shoved in his face like a verbal onslaught from Lou Piniella. But what I do know is that I still want him to embrace the good things about sports, in spite of the barrage of negativity.
I want him to know the fun of playing with friends in the park, high-fiving a buddy for making a great play, sharing a cold drink in the afternoon sun after out-running the horizon, or simply anticipating those small things that as adults we so often take for granted. Perhaps just as importantly, I want him to have sports heroes and to realize that hard work, perseverance and having passion can create positive experiences. These might be romantic ideals, but they are also foundations for an appreciation of important parts of life.
For what it’s worth, I think it’s unwarranted to scrutinize every move big name athletes make, assuming they are not criminals or generally disturbing the peace, because it goes outside of their value to us, and contradicts why we like them in the first place. It’s a fool’s game to think all pros are good men. Many of them are unlikely to be. On the sporting field, as is the case in life, people will display good and bad qualities. Nobody is perfect, a lesson in itself.
And thankfully, there are still perfectly good moments within the sporting arena for parents to share with their junior sports nuts without the sensationalists trying to influence the situation as well.