Better Stewards of Sport

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November 17, 2011 by David Gillaspie

originally posted on

by David Gillaspie

$894,000. Time Is Money?

Sports fans around the world share more in common than they do their race, religion, and nationality combined.

Nothing else matters when they ask about their team, or their kid’s team.

All fans want are results, the score, to the exclusion of all else. It is one of the strongest unifying desires found in modern man. 

The international Olympic movement bears witness to this truth.

Sometimes outside influences interfere with the simple joy of sports.

While the list of problems is too long for one column, some highlights show the fan’s resilience.

1908 London Olympic Games Marathon:

The leader of the race came down the home stretch, entered the stadium, and got lost after taking a wrong turn. Judges corrected his mistake, but he fell down. With their help he crossed the finish line ahead of the second place finisher.

If you’ve ever tried running a marathon, you can understand the situation. More than one runner finishes with an empty tank instead of quitting when they hit the dreaded wall. You can tell their condition by the way they stumble and limp through the last few hundred meters.

A complaint in 1908 resulted in the gold medal rightfully awarded to the second place runner, American Johnny Hayes.

Through all difficulties, the modern Olympics have continued from 1896 through next year’s London Games, the only cancellations coming during world wars. The 1916 Olympics slated for Berlin, 1940 planned forTokyo, and the 1944 London games were all casualties, but the Olympic spirit continued.

Sports fans rejoiced.

1919 World Series:

History paints a picture of Chicago White Sox players throwing the Series to the Cincinnati Reds for an estimated $80,000. A player named Joe Jackson remains linked to the ‘Black Sox’ scandal even though he hit .375 for the Series.

Was he a bad cheater, or that good a player?

In spite of gambling and tight ownership, the World Series played on through WWI and WWII. Only a labor strike in 1994 canceled the Fall Classic. Sports fans turned away from baseball then, but returned during the Steroid Era when home runs flew out of ballparks across the country.

After poster boys like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds retired, crowds with their peanuts and Crackerjacks returned to watch a cleaner game.

Sports fans everywhere rejoiced.

Super Bowl:

The NFL staged their championship game from 1967 to 2011. Every scheduled Super Bowl is in the record book, showing an unbroken string of forty-four years. While not interrupted by world wars like the Olympic Games, or cancelled by a player’s strike like baseball, the Super Bowl has had its share of drama.

In 1982 a players’ strike turned a sixteen game season into a nine game dash to the Super Bowl. Another strike in 1987 resulted in a fifteen game schedule instead of sixteen, with replacement players in three mid-season games. While some fans took to the field, the rest of us wondered why.

We have stayed with teams through good times and bad, through the Raiders’ moves, the Colt’s and Oilers and Browns leaving town, and Tony Romo. The NFL thrives, even without a team inLos Angeles.

What does it take to force a sports fan to abandon the games they love?

NBA, 2011:

As a group, NBA players might be the best major-sport athletes in the world. They have the size, strength, and endurance to make it through their exhilarating 82 game regular season. They use their fine motor skills to break opponents down with crossover dribbles.

If we try the same move, we break an ankle.

They even have the pride to assume leadership in the international game after watching Russia cheat its way to Olympic gold in 1972. When America didn’t participate in the 1980 Games, then won a bronze medal with NBA players in 1988, the Dream Team came to the rescue.

The gold came home in 1992, 1996, and 2000, but a bronze in 2004 made elite NBA players re-commit to international play. A gold medal in 2008 was our reward.

What happens in 2012?

So far, the players’ strike of 2011 has shortened the projected season. A breakdown in negotiations between players and owners threaten the entire season. Will there be an Olympic basketball team worthy of the name?

The fans deserve one.

In the world of sports, basketball feels like the most American game.

We shoot the same ball at the same hoop in our driveway that NBA players use in their arenas. Even if we don’t run and jump with the same grace and power, we can at least stand at the free throw line and drain one.

Baseball may have come from rounders, and football from rugby, but basketball comes from a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. It’s our game and we don’t like it whenYugoslavia, Argentina, or the Soviet Union take Olympic gold.

We don’t like it when our local team drafts injury prone players instead of the Michael Jordans and Kevin Durants of the world.

It bothers us to witness an NBA star wearing a watch costing more than our car complain about money as much as it does hearing an NBA owner talking about losing a hundred million dollars while hiding their tax write-offs.

Disagreement over millions of dollars, over generational money, isn’t something most of us relate to. We relate to the game. We are sports fans, not accountants. We want the games, not the sound bites of ESPN analysts. We want better stewards of sport, all sports.

Is that asking too much?


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