Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

Yes we understand sports is a cultural phenomenon in America, all over the globe really, whether it’s soccer in Latin America, hockey in Canada, rugby in Europe, martial arts throughout Asia, no matter where you go in the world there is a favorite sport somewhere. Children and adults alike idolizing player prowess with a ball, bat, performance in the hockey rink, their abilities often elevating them to role model status as well as fame. Our craving for sports feats, people doing the seemingly impossible, extraordinary, winning the competition often inspires love, devotion and obsession with players, causes extreme reactions; fans across the board willing to go all out crazy for their sport, their team, a favorite player leading to riots and civil unrest caused by soccer hooligans, crazed hokey lovers, fights in the stands here at any game for our dominate sports. Still parents allow their children to more readily emulate athletes, because on the whole they typically avoid the bad behavior reveled in by other celebrities. Yes likewise we know sports is big business in America from regular season, post season and playoffs surrounding the 3 major sports, football, basketball and baseball; they draw huge television viewing audiences year round, advertisers engage in cutthroat competition, pay big bucks to create, then have their ad ran during the coveted super bowl. Regardless of sport, sell millions in tickets, ball park stadium concessions, sport, team paraphernalia, from game day foam fingers to jerseys, notebooks, water bottles and more housing a singular team logo. Not to mention the periphery revenue generated by grocery superstores selling essential tailgating, game day party foods, supplies, outdoor grills, cooking utensils and appliances, morning shows hold segments on everything from traditional game day recipes to new trends for the occasion; many people’s thanksgiving and Christmas traditions center around family games of tag football, male family members shooting friendly games of hoops, fathers giving sons their first baseball and bat. Understanding the cultural, money making aspects aside, Americans are again sorely in need of a reality, perhaps importance and priority check as well, nothing proves that more than the morning shows over the past 2 weeks. Every channel you turned to included at least one segment on the so called ‘deflate gate,’ allegations the New England Patriots played their AFC winning game, earning them a spot in the super bowl, with deflated balls. Weight of the accusations less about it affording them a win they otherwise would not have obtained, game analysts all agreeing it would not have changed the outcome, and more about sportsmanship, following the rules, how tacky, in poor taste cheating is for such a known, successful team coupled with prior accusations proven true. People left wondering just how much of that legendary success was ill-gotten.


But the equally better question, on a larger scale, is who is looking to sports for role models, life models these days anyway?  Momentarily forgoing the tumultuous year just passed for the NFL, revelations uncovered about how the league conducts itself, there is the recent history of increasingly severe scandals following athletes across the country; money making schemes, illegal dog fighting rings, sexual misconduct tied to wild parties, you name it and it has been tied to someone in sports at least once in the last decade, particularly football. Case in point, a 2005 Minnesota Vikings boat party involving over a dozen players, people brought there for sex and the sexual assault of possibly 2 women, the formal charge against 2 players was indecent, disorderly, and lascivious conduct. Anyone not living under a rock knows who the dog fighter was, Michael Vic, sentenced to just under 2 years in prison, for among other things, cruelty to animals. Aaron Hernandez, soon to be on trial for murdering a semi-pro player, also played for the New England Patriots. What’s undoubtedly more surprising, even in light of something like ‘deflate-gate,’ when contemplating right, wrong, the morality of the situation is what his arrest and subsequent charging revealed about his past, his personal life, a history with guns, shooting people and his suspected involvement in the death of exactly 3 people spanning 2 years and 2 separate cases. That was just 2 years ago in 2013; Javon Belcher’s murder of his girlfriend and related suicide got more attention for the gun involved, the spotlight it placed on domestic abuse, than football’s role in the tragedy, whatever role that was.  Tying into something else too medical, research information linking repeated play of football, college or pro, the tough it out culture of playing injured, specifically with head injuries, concussions and brain disease namely, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, changing perceptions about football’s correlation, potential causality to domestic abuse circa 2012. Next, there was the lawsuit brought by former players asserting, detailing the long term injury they suffered, the life altering, sometimes deadly effect from repeated concussions, being given doses of pain killers in order to play, encouraged to play injured, even dizzy and out of it was actually a disease perpetuated, exacerbated by NFL officials and team doctors profit driven, poor management of player health; the NFL settled said lawsuit shelling out millions. Who could forget the horrid saga of Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky and more importantly, the children the latter was eventually convicted of sexually abusing, the alleged but obvious cover up allowing it to go on for years? Then there is the past year for the NFL jaw dropping video showing top player Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend unconscious in an elevator then dragging her somewhere off camera; footage released by tabloid television show TMZ. Worse is what the league knew and when; Rice reportedly went to the NFL commissioner admitted what he had done and received a 2 game suspension for his conduct. Once the tape was made public indicating it wasn’t a case of Rice being attacked or some, thought to be justifiable, reason for his actions, outrage grew he could do this to a women be so clearly guilty of domestic abuse and be dealt only a light sentence, allegations surfacing commissioner Goodell and other officials were given the tape, aware of the tape refusing to watch it, act on it. Adding to a growing image problem for the NFL, arbitrary punishments seemingly doled out on Godell’s whim, complete lack of concrete, policies, clear procedures to handle extreme player misconduct off the field. Enter Adrian Peterson and the graphic photos detailing the whooping given to his 4 year old son, making headlines as much for NFL waffling on would they or would they not bench him until the outcome of his legal proceedings, his original defense of his actions, his dubious, disingenuous apology, his, read as an obvious attempt to hide, not take responsibility, talking about going to counseling to better handle his child, than the revived debate about spanking discipline in this country. His audacity to A- cop a plea deal avoiding jail time and B- boldly appealing his season long suspension from the sport; one author phasing it this way, he should take his lumps and beg his sons forgiveness.

Returning to deflate-gate exclusively, NLF inquiry did find 11 of 12 game balls were under inflated by 2 pounds per square inch; where things get tricky is who did it, who, if anyone, masterminded any plan to give the Patriots an advantage, chiefly was it a player, so the balls were technically deflated did anyone on that team notice the balls “didn’t feel right?” Further in dispute when exactly a player for the opposing team complained something about the balls wasn’t right, before or after half time, and if they got details like that wrong, what else could they be wrong about? Reportedly this isn’t the first time this exact opposing team, the Indianapolis Colts, has complained about the Patriots citing a December game; both indicating perhaps allegations should have been looked into and solved by now or the Colts have a particularly nasty rivalry with the Patriots, individual team members are fed up of losing game to said Patriots and are seeking an underhanded advantage themselves. A possibility set needing to be investigated now too, if you intend to render fair judgment in regards to rule breaking, intentional violation of ethics, policy. Also up for serious discussion, as serious as you can get discussing events most of the world isn’t watching, was the ball deflation actual cheating or simply finding a game edge, does it really create a tangible impact on ball handling, to the point it has to take up at minimum one segment on every morning show 2 weeks leading up to the super bowl, people continuing to want answers even after a winner is crowned?  Not helping matters of NFL image, public perception they probably did cheat, when you have both the coach and star quarterback speaking in press conferences the former blatantly signaling he doesn’t want to be there, appearing uncomfortable, being evasive in question answering, not knowing how to answer some questions; Tom Brady who could describe his process choosing game footballs, depicting he preferred them a certain way and disliked them being touched after selection, still not finding anything wrong with the balls. Though that could just as easily mean whatever happened, whoever potentially tampered with balls did so after Brady was finished, almost would have had to for them to make it into the game at all post mandatory inspection by referees. Our Patriots head coach on the other hand mockingly named in media reports Bill Belichick the science guy trying to explain how weather conditions, environment could have deflated the balls sans human interference; atmospheric pressure, rubbing and otherwise manipulating brand new footballs to break in leather, according to Belichick, caused the air pressure within the ball (PSI) to read falsely high leading to them being under inflated when they took the field in cold weather. However a famous real science guy, Bill Nye, was more than willing to explain to ABC news why that explanation is nothing but fabricated hot air; he demonstrated for Good Morning America that to truly change the air pressure in a ball you need the inflation needle, and of course the air machine attach to it, to put air into the ball, the needle alone to remove air. Similarly the only way rubbing a football could decrease PSI is if the ball were extremely worn, on the verge of coming apart causing a leak; hardly a ball any professional team would play with, more likely found in a person’s garage, attempting to be used before recognizing there’s a problem. Compounding complications  unraveling the truth of did this team cheat or not, preventing related incidents, suspicion in the future, is unless there is video, a picture found depicting someone with a football, with an inflation device, a ball boy comes forward, a person affiliated with the team comes forward presenting a credible story they saw an individual tampering with balls, heard an individual, individuals talking about a plan to deflate balls, there is nothing the NFL can do to sanction or punish the team. Speaking of others associated with the team, where were the equipment managers, referees in all this, did they know, did they let this happen partly by inattention; that being said, sheer number of people who had access to game balls, why is the focus so closely attached to the coach and the star player?

Only partially known to the public, teams have a virtual entourage of people in their employ interacting with athletes, perfecting tackles, throws, key plays to defeat a team, utilize physical therapists, doctors, nutritionists, trainers to keep players in top condition; on top of all the people placed in charge of the equipment inspecting practice fields, general exercise equipment, sports exclusive tools here football sleds, dummies, chutes, shields, not to mention helmets, jerseys, balls, other sports bats, sticks, rackets. Many of whom also accompany teams on the road to manage those things so players, coaches can focus on game necessities, stratagem, rest; reinforcing, despite Bill Belichick’s past proven actions, using video to steal an opposing team’s hand signals, for which he was fined thousands of dollars and the team lost draft choices, it could have been anyone. Subsequently if we, league officials were, are so concerned about, so consumed by a fight for integrity, why was Belichick not banned from coaching the sport, at least on a professional level? Added to the near absurdity surrounding things, surrounding the ridiculous number of people following, events that should have quickly become a non-story, only hashed out, analyzed, over scrutinized on endless sports channels seeking to fill airtime, justify their existence. What should the NFL have done; hastily rendered a verdict without proper investigation multiplying the shame when it comes out that’s what happened, postponing the super bowl, putting it on hold for a decision is a non-starter, would see the public up in arms having purchased their tickets, made their travel plans well in advance?  NFL authorities who aren’t sitting idle, who think they’ve found a person of interest; their prime suspect, a ball handler, locker-room attendant, a ball handler who could be incompetent as much as trying to give his team an advantage, cheat the opposing team. Nor is a team coach, a team’s star quarterback responsible for said locker-room attendant’s actions unless and until they were told by either mentioned entity, other team persons to not only deflate balls, but to deflate balls for a nefarious purpose, unless and until they saw something and said nothing, felt something was odd about the balls used and didn’t speak up. It’s not that we care, it’s not that we have an eye on the people our children are trying to emulate, take their life cues from; it’s how much we care, too much, how much misplaced value we put on the outcome of a game when no major star who has become a household name has clean hands, is playing cleanly either in the game or in the moral, life expectations tacked onto their performance. It’s that parents remain passive allowing children to look up to athletes thinking they are learning life lessons pertaining to sportsmanship, teamwork, how to gracefully win or lose at something, incongruent with actual occurrences, when team bullying, done by adults in the professional world of football caused one 2001b man to quit his team, or don’t the same religious followers of our current story remember Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito playing for a little team called the Miami Dolphins. Bullying that simultaneously plagues our schools, must always be on a parents radar to keep your child from being a victim, the perpetrator, when what star players are proven to be doing in the locker-room, on the felid, off the field indicates ‘deflate- gate’ represents the least of their problems, the least of spots’ as a whole’s problems.

Sure no sport on any level pro, college or grade school, parks and rec, is without its problems, nor will they ever be completely without problems, personal or professional controversies, an athlete somewhere will always be accused of cheating, the complete picture is why.  The fact feats we have so come to admire, been conditioned to expect rarely occur naturally, if they ever do at all, and definitely not with the frequency to create the sheer number needed to fill rosters on multiple teams across every sport, to generate the quantity of Hall of Fame, great ones across key sports highlighted in America over the last 50, even 100 years. Along those same lines our moral expectations are just as inflated as our athletic expectations; remember these people made it into the limelight based on what they could do with a ball, bat, hockey puck, how well they could throw exc., not their exemplary character as human beings. Thus pushing our hyper morality on them while expecting continuous, miraculous results, even to outdo themselves, their prior achievements, places an enormous amount of pressure on players setting them up to fail, whether it’s steroids, doping,  exacerbated character flaws leading to extramarital affairs, wild parties ending in accusations of rape, founded or not, domestic violence. Curiously and conveniently forgotten, scandals and shame going back almost as many years as the modern, known forms of the sports themselves regardless which sport you’re talking about; baseball, arguably America’s longest pastime, is filled with shady characters from its ingraining into American culture right up to present day. And considering what greats like Pete Rose used to get up to, it makes Mark McGwire, A-rod’s use of sophisticated steroids seen par for the course. Kobe Bryant accused of rape after a dubious encounter in a hotel room, exposing at the very least he cheated on  his wife, though there was information given about the victim making rape doubtful, Bryant’s public profile was tarnished, endorsements lost and he was forced to make a public apology. Dennis Rodman reaching the news of late for his odd friendship with North Korean leader Kin Jung Un, believe it or not young people, used to play basketball distinguished as much by his wild hair, nose piercing, unique fashion sense, once playing in a wedding dress, and notoriously bad temper than his skills handling a ball; carrying the now familiar list of legal troubles drunk, driving, domestic disturbance over fights between him and his then girlfriend, interfering with a police investigation. Tiger woods, once golf’s golden boy, winning almost any game he played, breaking records, amassing trophies is now known for his injuries, bad games, on course temper tantrums, let’s not forget his horrible personal life, admissions to repeated serial cheating on his wife, the mother of his children, his current, in bad taste, girlfriend. Look at Lance Armstrong who put America on the map when it came to cycling breaking records, winning grueling competitions, his brave battle with cancer proving for many there was depth and fortitude to this; man turns out he was doing some weird blood doping thing and taking all kinds of drugs to get to the heights he achieved, probably why he ended up getting cancer to begin with. Worse in Armstrong’s case, after his denials, his reluctant, evasive finally coming clean he recently said no, he wouldn’t do it again today in 2015; however, if he were returned to the 1990’s when it was pervasive, “everyone was doing it” he probably would, proving he hasn’t learned his lesson that it was wrong, it was cheating, his growing contriteness seeming to stem from getting caught. It doesn’t make any of it right but it does provide some much needed perspective, establishing sports stars as real people, fallible like anyone else; distinguishing between the severity of legal problems, domestic violence, possible murder, rape, drunk driving, the clear immorality of extra marital affairs versus who potentially deflated footballs in a game where the wining team had an advantage alright, a better game. The one thing Tom Brady hit squarely on the head in his lack luster press conference is when he said this isn’t ISIS, no one is dying.  It also isn’t Syria, it isn’t the political collapse in Yemen with potential global ramifications, it isn’t oil prices, gas prices, taxes, things that have an actual effect on people’s lives.

Yet again the bigger issue, especially in light of what we’ve come to know about the sports world over the years is why we thought sports teams, sports stars were being honest with us from the get go, why we haven’t come to understand at least part of what we see on the field, the court, in the rink is fake, is enhanced by athletes who use substances and other techniques to produce the spectacle, spectacular results we demand. That traditional sports, so called real sports, have adopted many theatrical elements parallel to the scripted scenes in televised wrestling fake moves only used there not used in Jr. high, high school, college competitions actually done for the sport, the technique, the prowess of strength, out maneuvering your opponent as opposed to, using arena ropes to jump off of and land on your rival, pulling hair, hitting each other in the head with folding chairs. Why haven’t we stopped seeing pro sports athletes, pro sports stars as acceptable role models for kids, clinging to the fantasy emulating them will give youth examples of sportsmanship, teamwork, how to lose gracefully, a model for life and doing well in it, perseverance, determination, hard work, commitment is a dumfounding mystery; why we haven’t come to the admittedly sad conclusion there are no role models left, if the people we called role models ever were what we thought they were. Just look at what we’ve found out about icons like Bill Cosby, Steven Collins. Certainly we can allow our children to view sports, to admire what they see players doing in their element, enjoy the show as long as they understand a show is what it is, it isn’t real the same way everything else they see on TV, special effects, stunts aren’t real. Subsequently if we haven’t sat down with our sports admiring child and has age appropriate conversations about the actions of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Richie Incognito then we are incredibly remiss as parents. Of course no sport should either perpetuate or condone such behavior; still alongside these significant problems ‘deflate gate’ seems like the much ado about nothing that it is. Of course no team should cheat, but they have yet to prove those in charge of the team, playing on the team were even aware of what was happening, never mind  orchestrated it. And until we know who knew what, who may have told who to do what such conversations should center around the misguiding actions of an equipment handler and the responsibility and trust sounding the job; ‘deflate gate’ should be nothing more than a blip on a sports show not a national uproar swallowing morning shows, mentioned on the nightly news.