If Jesus of Nazareth were among us today he wouldn’t be a carpenter. He spent his time on Earth among the lowest strata of the society of his day, such as lepers and prostitutes. It would only be fitting for Him to spend the present day with the true outcasts of our society; the ones whom everyone looks down on, insults and derides. Jesus would be an athlete.
After the U. S. Women’s National Soccer Team won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, a fellow South Jersey resident said to me, “Delran (the next town over) should really do something for Carli Lloyd.” It got me thinking. When does this country ever recognize athletic accomplishments? I became deeply sullen. The only thing we Americans distain more than sports itself are the people who play them. It’s wrong. I’m issuing a call to action to give athletes the recognition they deserve for all they do to make society better.
I envision a day when sports are valued. I remember when I became a volunteer librarian for a local museum. Competition was harsh. I had to beat out at least two dozen people for the position. Keep in mind that the role didn’t pay anything. It wasn’t an internship. The expression, “it’s harder to volunteer as a local historian than it is to get into an Ivy League college” is a cliché for a reason.
Culture and heritage are important, but so is a winning sports team. Both amateur and professional sports franchises have to beg and plead with people to get involved. How many baseball games have you seen this year where teams struggled to get nine people on the field? It’s so difficult to find athletes these days that many high schools and colleges have been forced to drop their sports programs entirely. The term “jock” used to be an epithet of derision. Now athletes long to hear it.
It gets worse than that, though. I still remember the first time someone published my writing. The Mayor had a banquet in my honor. He handed me a proclamation declaring “Kevin Stephany Month”. The township closed off Main Street and various speakers heaped praise on me for my, “showing the world our community’s appreciation of the arts.” It then sponsored a bond issue on the ballot to increase funding for local historians like me.
I felt more embarrassed than humbled. I didn’t deserve this treatment. When’s the last time a town recognized anything a local sports team accomplished? Forget about taxpayer funding for anything to do with sports.
I often hear the argument that the National Endowment for the Arts is superfluous. It’s true. The private sector money in “big arts” draws myriad people to the field. That’s why any artist will tell you how they struggle to find the time to practice their craft. They spend the majority of their working day cashing checks. There’s no question the NEA’s funds would be better spent in a National Endowment for Sports.
It makes me so sad to watch professional sports franchises struggle to raise money. How many sports stadiums are “state-of-the-art” these days? Can any of us really understand how tough it is to sell hot dogs and pretzels from a five year old concession stand? When teams want to upgrade they have to raise needed funding on their own. In their selfishness, taxpayers and fans refuse to contribute. With this trend, franchises in some of the poorer markets such as New York and Boston will be forced to re-locate to Los Angeles.
And then there are the sacrifices athletes make. Someone once told me that 60% of professional basketball players end up bankrupt within two years of leaving the game. It’s no wonder based on the pittance the owners pay them. I’m optimistic an NES would be able to supplement incomes and bring them over the poverty line.
In reference to the poor wages, many athletes are forced into the “job of last resort” once their careers end. That position, of course, is professional coaching. That’s when the financial squeeze becomes crippling. It’s well documented that former professional football head coach Jim Harbaugh got demoted to working for a college. The media tried to downplay this career set-back by pointing out the school offered him $48 million dollars. This is misleading. The media downplayed that this “salary” was part of a multi-year contract. Think about what your employer pays you. Imagine them deciding to stretch that out over several years. Could you live on that? I sure couldn’t. My heart goes out to Coach Harbaugh and his family during these tough times.
It’s no wonder that athletes are forced into such pitiful sources of income once they can no longer play sports. “Scholar-athlete” is an oxymoron. It’s an open secret that all the good financial scholarships go to intellectuals. Since so few people have any interest in sports, athletic scholarships are extremely rare. Even if sports stars can get one, they’re forced to settle for places with dubious academic credentials like Stanford, Notre Dame and Duke, or other barely accredited “schools”.
To be fair, I’m a sports fan, myself. I even played a number of them in my youth. I have great respect for the U. S. Women’s National Soccer Team. They worked hard and became the best in the world at what they do. These talented athletes reached the pinnacle of their profession. That’s a tremendous accomplishment that no one can ever take away from them.
I don’t have issues with athletes. I do object to the way society treats them. It’s not that we worship athletes, we deify them. Whenever a local sports team wins anything, we treat our “heroes” in a way that calls to mind Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The athletes themselves would be better served remembering what happened to Him a week later.