Even during the seven years I lived in Seattle I remained true to the teams of my childhood, but Seattle’s teams became close seconds. I was thrilled when the Seahawks beat SF in the NFC championship, and then I was stunned when immediately following the game a player from Seattle exhibited as shocking a display of poor sportsmanship as anyone’s ever seen. (Measured by reaction to it) At a time when he ought to have been excited about doing his part to propel his team and the city’s fans to the Superbowl he, instead, badmouthed his opponent and talked about how great he was. We’ve all seen the clip. It could have been over almost as soon as it happened, but far too many people refused to hold him accountable. Then came the excuses: the other guy was talking smack too, he was hopped up on adrenaline, and somewhere in there that he went to Stanford and had a high GPA became relevant. There was no arguing any of these points because none of them changed that moment of poor behavior which, for most of the country, was our only impression of the guy. Well, we were supposed to learn about him, then. So he gave interviews where he told us not to judge the book that was him by the cover which was, I guess, what he showed the world in that infamous post game interview. Where does this sense come from that I’m expected to investigate further a person who’s just leapt into my living room and assaulted me with his lack of tact?
We’re a sports obsessed culture. People who never watch sports pay taxes to have stadiums built, are forced to pay for cable packages that include sports or forego cable. The odds against any athlete making it to the pros, in any sport, are astronomically high, and you get the sense these young athletes understand how fortunate they are when they make it, but do you ever get the sense they appreciate that such a place exists to make it to? A place where players sign for more money than most of the fans watching them will make in their lifetimes?
In Collapse by Jared Diamond, he describes how ancient civilizations, once flourishing, collapsed. One of the common elements in these collapses was those civilizations maintaining their systems to the bitter end, whether Easter Islanders pouring vanishing resources into building statues or civilizations sending the bulk of produced food to the ruling class while the common people starved. From the future we look back and see how self-destructive that was, but what about us? What would aliens think if they visited us and saw the wealth we funnel up to an ultra tiny minority of gifted athletes? The modern day perfect example is Detroit. Economically devastated yet their baseball team is among the highest salaried in the major leagues. Look how far we’ve come from when professional teams were formed from the best players a city could find from their population and paid them such a small amount that they also worked in the off season. So far that athletes don’t feel appreciative of fan support they feel entitled to it. Cleveland had a pitcher, a few years back, who chastised the fans for not coming out for games because the team was playing hard and winning.
The system is run amok. Can we blame LeBron James who was declared king at age 17? He left Cleveland because of the pressure put on him to win championships. Your legacy depends on winning it all and no excuses. Boston ganged up and beat him twice, so he ganged up in Miami. He’s back in Cleveland because it looks like where he can win again. I understand that and I don’t hate him for it, but I don’t respect him either. He had an opportunity to earn my respect by choosing to not chase cheap championships and keep trying to earn one of enormous value, but he squandered that opportunity. And no number of championships will equal the value of that one earned one. Not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.
The second saddest part of what happened in Seattle was that a city on the verge of their first Superbowl was so terrified it would be tainted by one player’s display of poor sportsmanship that they refused to acknowledge it and anyone who tried to was against them. T-shirts were sold that read, “Seattle, if you’re not from here…” and underneath were two cartoon middle fingers. The saddest part was I was talking to my brother-in-law about that situation, not realizing my two nieces from Seattle were listening, and I love that one of them interrupted to say, “Isn’t he allowed to say what he wants?” But try as I did to open up a dialogue with her, she already knew from my comments that I was on the opposition’s side. She seemed already entrenched in the opinion that what he said was okay because to say it wasn’t might taint something important, a Superbowl win for the city. Somewhere between hatred of a guy for one selfish moment and a blind, extreme defense of him, an opportunity was missed to teach our children a valuable lesson.
So what will happen now if Cleveland wins a championship, finally, after all these years? It always stuck with me that a friend once told me sports don’t matter. What matters is anything we make matter. What has meaning is anything we give meaning to, but that comes with a requirement that the things we give that meaning to meet a certain standard, or else we question why we give it meaning. Will it not be tainted if we win this way? Won’t the many of us who rooted for him to lose to Dallas and this last year to the Spurs and enjoyed it when he did–and that wasn’t out of spite, it was because we respected those other two teams for the way they built winning teams instead of buying them–and who rolled our eyes the two years he won and called those championships cheap because of how he got them, won’t we have trouble enjoying his winning here? Won’t it be hard to find meaning in it?
This has already happened. No one reading this is responsible for the team Cleveland will put on the floor next year, but we all get to choose what we do next. And I tend to post strong opinions here at my blog, but that’s all they ever are, my opinions. I truly don’t have an instinct to judge what anyone does next. If the Cavs win a championship I’ll be glad for my friends who are glad. The same way I was glad for my Seattle friends who were glad when Seattle won. I’m just presenting my thoughts as clearly as I can because I’m personally out. I can’t root for a team to win a championship that, for me, would feel cheap, that wouldn’t have meaning. This has been a long time coming, but what we collectively pay for professional sports it just too out of whack with my level of enjoyment. The Seattle thing bugged me a lot and this bugs me even more, but it’s been building for longer than that. I just no longer relate to sports in a way that feels meaningful. The only value in it is the social aspect, so for the people I used to chat sports with we’ll hopefully be able to think up some other things to chat about.