Somewhere throughout modern history it happened, and for better or for worse it cannot be reversed. We began to idolize sports, and in that act we created the modern athlete. He (and later she) amazed us, held us breathless while teetering upon that thin line of talent that, at its finest moments, transcends into an artistry whose beauty was shared not just by the elite, but by all those who took the time to watch. Our new found artists, those whose talents (by pure mastery of their craft) were able to, at once, define the simplicity and complexity of sport became legends almost over night.
We then watched sport develop from pure art to business, hastened by television which brought this art into our homes. This big business led to big money, which led to big salaries and big scrutiny. The athlete was now in the highest tax bracket, as well as the constant spotlight. We set a higher standard for the athlete, we created the belief that our national moral identity was predicated upon the off the court actions of the athlete. The problem then became that of the fallout when those standards were not met. We have dinner party discussions on the arrogance of Michael Jordan, the infidelity of Tiger Woods and the fragile relationship between players and fans which one day, at the Palace at Auburn Hills, was broken in a way that is always in the back of our mind.
We expect professional athletes to be role models to the children who watch, in revery, the games they have mastered. These games played by men, most of whom not just larger than life in stature but personality, are also the games of children. American children, and those throughout the world, begin playing sports at an early age. Sports are used to indoctrinate early lessons of respect, discipline, and teamwork. It is assumed that the professional athlete is the matured embodiment of these characteristics, aged and fermented over the years through the high school and collegiate levels and now ready to assume their role as the example to be looked upon by the future of our society.
Sports also make our world smaller. The invention of television, and with that televised sports, has given American society a modern idea of the collective experience. Live sporting events have gained cultural relevance by allowing everyone, everywhere to gaze upon moments of elite athletic prowess and grace together. A white child in Mobile, Alabama shares the same transcendent experience of the buzzer beater, the winning home run, the last minute drive, down four with two minutes left, as a black child living on the South-side of Chicago and this in turn gives us hope. This rare and fleeting interconnectedness is what makes us believe in sports, and its message of unity, courage, and team work are the contributions our simple games bring to society.
Yet anyone who has studied, in any detail, the make-up of professional sports understands the inherent flaws of this message. At the end of the day professional sports are just that: a profession where money is one of, if not the biggest motivating factor. Contracts dictate the importance of an athlete, where he who makes the most is he who bears the burden of responsibility and possibly the resentment of teammates. In a profession such as sports an athlete’s worth is quantified in the juxtaposition of competing contracts. The true performance evaluation being in off-season renegotiations.
Teams are made of individuals, and individuals do not always buy in to the theory of the team. Buying in can mean relinquishing control of the uniqueness of personality for a common good (the team) which is not always achieved. Individuals come from backgrounds, and these backgrounds aren’t always what society deems normal, which is where the true contradiction in sports begins to manifest. In a league such as the NBA the contradiction has always been in the dichotomy of athlete and fan. How does one sell a league whose athletes are predominately black, to “Middle America” which is predominately white when the norms of these two demographics present such a volatile fault line? Society expects modern athletes to act within the realm of modern morality, often set by the norms of “Middle America,” which is most often qualified by the mainstream media’s assumptions (often educated) of those norms.
The problem we face with applying these norms is when those who are under scrutiny have developed their individual moral code outside of, and often without view of the mainstream experience. Those athletes who cannot easily transition from what they were in youth to what is currently expected of them are often the most denigrated.
It is this moral gray area that has always interested me the most about professional sports, especially the NBA, and what will be the driving factor behind the topics of discussion on this website. My motivation lies in studying the issues facing today’s professional sports environment, and attempt to logically argue the unpopular side. While I will do my best not to support either side I am only human and am sure some biases will subtly present themselves. I also understand that, by definition, a moral gray area is one in which everyone will have a different opinion and many will not agree with my logistics. My goal in creating this website is to use a creative outlet to provide the my readers with a new spin on the dinner party conversation. It is not in the persuasion of opinion where my objective lies, but in the ability to create debate and allow readers to leave this website comprehending a new depth to issues that were once viewed as rigidly simplistic.