Its Not About the Steroids


Anyone who knows the Dowbrigade or is a regular reader
of this space is aware that he has been a life-long fan of sports, both as a
spectator and as a participant. We confess to an almost complete lack of athletic
ability. Nevertheless, a keen sense of competition. a desire to feel
in touch and comfortable with our body, and a love of being outdoors
have led to recreational and competitive participation in a wide variety
of physical activities including but not limited to tennis, skiing, sledding,
baseball, sharp shooting, biking, surfing, yoga, canoeing, camping and
curling. We spent 10 years coaching in Cambridge Youth Soccer, until
a recruiting scandal and rabid parents convinced us to hang it up.

Actually, its a damn good thing we like all those actual physical
activities or otherwise it would be nigh on impossible to pry us away
from watching Football, Basketball, Baseball, Soccer, track and field,
tennis, volleyball, hockey, billiards, poker and the World’s Strongest
Men competition on the tube. As Norma Yvonne will testify, we would watch
a flower arranging competition if they could figure out a quantifiable scoring
system, as we can’t stand "sports" which depend on "style
points" like
figure skating.

Furthermore, we believe in Sports as an abstract principle, as something
innately good, like Democracy or Diversity. Despite, or perhaps because
of Sports origins in mock warfare and combat training, we believe in
its power to bring people together, to bridge cultural gaps and to foster
the growth of all that is good in the human spirit.  The Olympics
represent the highest ideals of using Sports to bring peoples together
on the playing field rather than the battlefield.

So it pains us mightily to admit and aver that Sports is today a sick and
twisted endeavor in America, and a glaring symptom
of what has gone horribly wrong in this great country of ours.  Even
worse, it has become a subtle and seductive mechanism by which an entire
segment of our society is being held in economic and developmental bondage.

We are not referring to the current scandal involving rampant use of
illegal performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports, although
that belongs in a separate screed on the perversion of modern medicine
and traditional drug addiction by these pernicious substances.  We
are not writing about the mercenary attitudes, pampered lifestyles and
absolute lack of moral fibre evinced by players, managers and owners
alike. No, what we are talking about is nothing less than a cruel and
cynical shell game designed to disenfranchise and divorce from power
an entire generation of young minority Americans.

Today, as we write and you read, all over America there are millions
of kids shooting free throws, practicing penalty kicks, downing nutritional
supplements and spending endless hours in weight rooms, chasing the impossible
dream of joining the enchanted elite of our society – professional athletes.

The numbers are depressingly sobering, but hey, most teenagers care
less about statistics than about reality in general, unless they have
to do with on-base or shooting percentages. Of the over three million
high school student-athletes, depressingly few will ever even go on to
play competitively in college.

According to the NCAA,
less than one in 35, or approximately 2.9 percent, of high school senior
boys playing interscholastic basketball will go on to play men’s basketball
at a NCAA member institution. Considering that approximately 1.3 percent,
of NCAA male senior basketball players will get drafted by a National
Basketball Association (NBA) team, that means that approximately 0.03
percent of high school senior boys playing interscholastic basketball
will eventually
be drafted by
an NBA team. The numbers are similar for football, baseball and hockey.

Yet the adulation and media attention given to these lucky few lottery
winners has skewed the values and aspirations of an entire generation
of impressionable youths, who represent our hopes and chances for a healthy
America in the future, squandering their talents and energies in a ridiculous
dead-ended quest.

The secret shame and sin of this system is that it is not affecting
all strata of our society equally. It is largely MINORITY kids who are
out there on the blacktop for hundreds of hours a week.  While kids
from sensible suburban schools and families with a history of higher
education bust the books and prepare for the SAT exams, minority kids,
barrio kids, broken-home kids are dreaming of signing bonuses and bling-bling

Needless to say, the odds of getting into a good college and graduate
school are a LOT better than the odds of making the NBA, even for a poor
black kid. To dangle and glorify such a precarious and unattainable goal
before a generation of impressionable kids without viable alternatives
is a mockery of equal opportunity and a moral if not a legal crime.

Some argue that the chance for a college athletic scholarship represents
a possible path out of the ghetto for a lot of these kids, but the reality
shows this to be a lie.  Even the elite few who make it to scholarship
colleges are used, abused and discarded, in most cases without even the
utility of a fake university degree.  As Derrick
Z. Jackson of the Boston Globe
repeatedly points out, major college athletic programs graduate
far less than 50% of their players, and graduation rates for minority
players lag far behind those for all athletes or all students.

He mentions several major basketball programs with African-American
graduation rates of zero. Most of the teams competing for national titles
are graduating 35-50% of their players, and lower percentages for minority

This is criminal, and is quickly killing any enthusiasm we can still
muster for major college sports, having long ago lost faith in the integrity of the pro variety. It makes us ashamed to call ourself a Sports Fan. We need to seriously rethink the whole
role and rule of sports in our society, in our schools, and in our lives.
We have some ideas for ways the moral morass can be cleaned up, but will
save them for a future post

1 Comment

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