The kickoff of the NFL’s 2013 Regular Season was this past Thursday, September 5th. So, the enthusiasm of NFL fanatics for their idols is in full ramp-up mode. That fervor will reach a crescendo with Super Bowl XLVIII. Although I’m an MLB fan and not an NFL fan, there’s a part of me that has looked forward to this, to help take the spotlight off of the disgusting circumstances surrounding the MLB’s highest-paid player, Alex Rodriguez.
There’s no denying that Rodriguez is greatly gifted with baseball talent, talent that makes him more than qualified to be a sports hero. And, having sports heroes can be a good thing. My baseball hero, growing up, was Mickey Mantle. Of course, when I criticize Rodriquez as compared to Mantle, as a sports hero, others consistently bring up Mantle’s alcoholism. However, that was not commonly known during the Mick’s playing days and it had nothing to do with his reputation as a sports hero. He was looked to, as a role model, for the way he played the game on the field and nothing else. On the other hand, AROD’s off-the-field misbehavior is well-known. Sort of belying the present uproar, his use of steroids has been common knowledge for sometime. And then there’s his infidelity, leading to divorce, followed by serial womanizing. To me, it’s disturbing enough that, with these things out in the open, he has continued to be looked upon as a sports hero. What I find more disturbing is that he has been idolized for these very behaviors.
As I said, having sports heroes can be a good thing, especially if they are truly role models for kids, for all aspects of their lives. But that isn’t the current state of affairs with present-day American Idols. Commonly, like Rodriguez, their financial rewards for playing a child’s game are exponentially greater than most top income earners who do real grown-up work, providing the driving force behind our economy. We make this possible by packing out stadiums, buying TV sports packages, wearing team gear emblazoned with our hero’s name, etc. And what good do American Idols like, AROD, do with that great wealth? If you visit the Bio page pictured above, you’ll find mention of charities where he’s made some contribution. But, if you consider the amounts, it is minuscule for his income level. Mostly, that wealth goes towards living a lavish life of debauchery which many envy and idolize.
Much as I’d like to see American Idols, like Alex Rodriguez, “turn from their wicked ways”, that isn’t really my concern. They are adults and it’s their free choice to do as they please with what is made available to them. My concern is, first, for continuing to let our youth strive for this, as an exemplary lifestyle. And, second, I worry about the precious resources that are wasted by these circumstances. Both add up to being a major factor contributing to the decline of what, without a dramatic change in course, will become The Late Great United States.
So what do we do to put this on a path towards becoming a more wholesome aspect of American culture? The Jerry Maguire “Show me the money!” line could certainly play a role. As a baseball fan, I see it as a sport but, to team owners, it’s a business. As long as they see paying exorbitant sums for talent as the key to securing their own wealth through stadium attendance, TV contracts, team gear sales, etc., that’s what they will do. So, when they say to us “Show me the money”, if we don’t continue to fork over all that money, surely they will have to make changes in response to that. That, however, isn’t likely to happen. If a national movement gained some traction in this regard, I might join in. But I’m not optimistic that this will happen. A key reason to my pessimism requires my admission of guilt here. When we moved from Southern California to Southwest Washington in 2005, one of the first things we did was to sign up for MLB TV so that we could still watch every Angels game like it was on a local TV channel. We’ve continued that every year since and occasionally, when the Angels are visiting the Mariners, we drive up to Seattle to catch a game at Safeco Field. And, usually we will be wearing Angels’ team gear emblazoned with names like Pujols.
One more practical solution is to shift our focus to sports figures who, in spite of all that their success has made available to them, conduct themselves in a manner that makes them good role models, both on the field and off the field. PGA star Hunter Mahan set a great example for this recently. He was halfway to his sixth career PGA Tour tournament victory, with a two-shot lead after the second round of the RBC Canadian Open when he received a call that his wife had gone into labor. After receiving the call, he withdrew from the tournament and flew home to Dallas to be present for the birth of the couple’s first child rather than continuing to pursue the $1.008 million first prize.
Although redirecting attention from the AROD sort of public figures to ones like Hunter Mahan would be good, I think it’s more worthwhile to emphasize supporting and encouraging those who do make good role models, who are doing as much good as they can with all they’ve been blessed with, while not seeking the limelight in the process. Likewise, I think we should all try to find ways to do this ourselves, even if it’s in ways that may seem minor. This is very much in line with the overall purpose of Here I Raise My Ebenezer, as I pointed out in the article, Starfish and Ideals: “We don’t expect that (our posts) will cause an immediate 180 degree turn in the devolution of our society but, issue-by-issue … we hope to bring healing to ills weakening our community’s foundation.” I plan to detail examples of this in one or more future posts. In the interim, I’d love to hear good examples you can tell us about. Perhaps you can tell us about experiences you’ve had yourself. Or, maybe you can tell us of good examples you’re aware of that are being set by others. You can name names when you share your stories or you can make them anonymous and generic. It doesn’t matter so much who is involved as much as what it is they’re doing. So, please, post your stories below, along with any other related comments you may want to make.