A valuable feature of sports is the love and appreciation for them that are consistently passed down from generation to generation. This applies to being both active participants and passionate spectators. After all most children form their rooting interests from parents and often one's first attachments, outside of family and friends, are through sports teams.
I've thought about this a lot the last few days as my first child - a son - was born a week ago. I began thinking about how enjoyable and important sports were when I was a young boy, in terms of the physical release they supplied as well as the cerebral, logical and mathematical creativity they inspired, be it through strategy, lists or statistics. Basically, I reflected upon all that is good about sports.
And of course I then thought about how different the sports universe is in the United States now compared to when I grew up in the 1970's and 1980's. After all, compared to the on demand media culture which has made the 21st century sports fan a most decidedly spoiled beast, one would be lucky to catch their favorite baseball or basketball team on TV twice a week. Kids today are so fortunate to be able to follow their favorite players and teams without missing literally one second of action. And I would never have dreamed that even the sports usually relegated to just once or twice yearly mention like tennis would be so available. Live tennis all year round? Are you kidding me?
Not to mention the coverage of sports. The best one could get in that prior era for a review of the last 24 hours of happenings in the sports world was a 6 minute wrap-up at the end of the local news. You had to work harder to acquire knowledge and reach an informed opinion on sports matters. Yes, one had to actually - dare I utter such words - read in order to discover what happened late at night after you went to bed.
And if per chance a ten year-old's loyalties are for a team outside of his geographic region, he can still proudly wear their t-shirt or jersey as they're readily available at most sporting good stores. Take it from me, a Cleveland Browns fan as a kid (don't ask) who lived in New York, that it wasn't always this way as I searched in vain - and even begged Santa on numerous occasions to no avail - for a Brian Sipe or Ozzie Newsome jersey. It was damn hard to validate your passion for a team back then if they weren't local or a perennial winner. It took a great deal of effort to convince people that you indeed were a true contrarian fan, that your allegiance did lie elsewhere.
And while I would never want to go back to that time of scant availability of televised games and lack of informational access to your team or athlete of choice and am happy that my child will be able to reap the benefits (at least when in spectator mode) of how sports are transmitted, not everything is better today concerning kids and sports. In fact, when it comes to sports, I view my role as a father as restoring an antiquated notion of what sports could be when raised to its highest level. In short, repossess the missing sense of perspective and moment that is rapidly vanishing from the sports fans' sense.
We are increasingly, perhaps exponentially, a species whose defining moments in the coming decades will not be exemplified by expansion per se. Rather it will be our ability to clean up and rid ourselves of excess that will be the hallmark of a successful generation. Now, this is especially germane where the environment is concerned. It'll be a continual process for all people, a practice of retraining ourselves in the way we create things, dispose of said things and even travel as our dominance on this planet against natural forces becomes ever more precarious.
I view sports in much the same fashion.
Quite simply, the toxicity levels in sports are reaching dangerous proportions and something has to be done about it before sports become either a self-imploding organism or an all devouring and cynical extension of our atavistic instincts. For just as I want to pass on to my child a healthy planet, I also want him to get a pure enjoyment from playing and watching sports. It's a far less noble and significant task but not one without worth.
Nowhere is the poisonous nature in sports more manifest than in the way we ascribe superlatives to mediocre or at best, non-historic moments. It demeans the integrity of those occasions in sports that merit such designation and high praise. How special or valuable is a standing ovation, curtain call, or emotional plea by a coach or player if they are always treated with such knee jerk praise and value? Why this compulsion to manufacture drama? That is what fiction and great art is for.
Unique and memorable happenings in sports are exactly that - meaning they occur on rare and special occasions. How can one tell the difference anymore? Kids see athletes demanding money after a season of average performance; celebrate a run, basket or touchdown when in fact such a score often did not decide the outcome of a game; and perhaps most egregiously protest a call or decision with a passion and conviction that isn't always apparent in their on-field performance.
There is a parallel between sports coverage and that of news. Does one recall when breaking news meant something grave or of paramount importance - like an assassination, earthquake or a monumental legislative event. It's increasingly and alarmingly a "boy who cried wolf" situation. How are we really to believe such a news story demands such urgent attention if seemingly every story is treated as such?
And this attitude and convention has spilled over to children's participation in sports. It has its own label - the trophy generation. Remember when receiving a trophy as a kid was an accomplishment that brought an incredible amount of confidence and self-worth? That's long gone as effort has trumped result, expression has won over form. Now to be fair, encouraging participation in recreational activities is great, especially with an obese populace. But it also engenders an utterly entitled mindset that not so subtly tells a kid that you'll always be rewarded.
Me - I want my son to realize that even if he's a talented player in his own right and exhibits peerless sportsmanship, he'll probably rarely experience triumph. It's a basic and valuable life lesson. It doesn't mean he won't find emotional and physical fulfillment playing sports; just that the results will often be wanting.
There are countless magical sporting events where narratives are played out to their wondrous and enigmatic conclusions, turning a sport happening into epic theater. And there are players who exhibit the finest that games can offer. Think of Federer-Nadal at Wimbledon in 2008 or last Sunday's now infamous Colts-Patriots battle with the two Hall of Fame quarterbacks engaged in struggle.
I'd like to ensure that my son enjoys such events in the future. But I do worry.