Charles Barkley was right: The decline of sport as a noble endeavor

During the summer of 2010, as basketball fans waited for a really big free agent season to pan out, the Miami Heat re-signed their star Dwyane Wade, and in a moment of managerial genius, managed to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh – all three at discounts so they could afford to have two other starters and a bench and still be under the salary cap.

Here’s how they were introduced.

Flashy and exciting, sure. There hadn’t been a starting three like that since…well, since any team ever, I guess.

But it started with James – a lifelong Cleveland resident, who signed with the Cleveland team out of high school and bought a modest home in Cleveland, saying this: “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”

That’s an actual quote.

Remember back in 1980s when parents slammed Charles Barkley for his I am not a role model ad? You know, because kids looked – and still look – up to sports stars as role models.

While I still find myself drawn to sport – I love watching a good contest in almost any sport – I’ve had a really hard time with the culture lately. I know so many people who love to put a good bet on the game when they can, they use sites like FanDuel to place their bets, then sit back and watch it all unfold!

Also: Get off my lawn.

Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky.

But how can you like a guy with an attitude like James had (I understand why he signed elsewhere – he definitely had a raw deal in Cleveland, where he was expected to be a one-man team)? He held a prime-time press conference to announce his decision. That’s when coaches found out, too. And the way he said it? Argh.

And the way the Heat introduced Wade, James, and Bosh, as though they were guaranteeing a championship? In a few years, a lot of us are going to forget it was the Dallas Mavericks who won the 2011 NBA title. We’ll just know it wasn’t Miami.

Last night in baseball, there were four games played to determine the final two playoff spots. Three of those games ended in dramatic fashion. That’s why I still love baseball, and why I still love the sport.

Do you know what else happened in baseball yesterday? Jose Reyes came into what might have been his final game in a Mets uniform. He’s been much-loved by fans, and I’m sure some of them came out to watch him compete for the National League batting title, which he was leading by three points coming into the game.

In the first inning, Reyes bunted for a single and promptly took himself out of the game, so as not to risk losing points off his batting average.

He won the batting crown, but probably disappointed a fair number of people by not playing the full game.

70 years ago, Ted Williams went into the final day of the season – one on which the Red Sox were scheduled to play two games – with a batting average of exactly .400, which is, to be sure, a milestone.

He could have sat out and finished the season secure in the knowledge that he hit .400, without risking his average. But if he was going to have a .400 average, he said he was going to have it for the whole season.

He had six hits in eight at-bats during the double-header, finishing the season with an average of .406 – the last time anyone finished a complete season with an average of .400 or higher.

One of those two is a role model, the other is squeaking by on minimal effort. (Not to take anything away from Reyes’ talent, just his character.)

Early in the NFL season, we’re talking about teams faking injuries to slow down a fast-moving offensive strategy. Want to know how to better defend against a fast offense? Get fitter.

Maybe it’s the money, I don’t know. But the culture of sports has changed a lot.

Get. Off. My. Lawn.



  • I’m not so sure about the idea that sports culture used to be nobler. I think it’s pretty much the same ratio of lunkheads to decent folks now as it was back then. But there used to be an active conspiracy between sports teams and the press to not report on the bad stuff. The mainstream sports press still prefer to be boosters than critical thinkers. But the internet, sports talk radio and ESPN have created the same 24 hour news cycle that plagues politicians. It wrenches actions out of context, spotlights titillating and scandalous behavior and never looks backward with correction or even context. The most recent book I hear flogged is a takedown of Walter Payton, for god sakes.

    I’ve been a Sox fan for a long time and follow the team fairly closely. I didn’t know until last year that Tim Wakefield is a one-man charitable machine–donating time, money and concern to scores of charitable works. It wasn’t news until he won the major league’s charitable guy of the year award–whatever it’s called.

    Every once in awhile we get a glimpse of what’s going on from the other side. My favorite sports story of nobility happened just last year–the Tiger pitcher Armando Gallaraga losing a perfect game because of a bad call by the first base umpire Jim Joyce. But instead of the drama being endlessly chewed over in the blogosphere, the grace with which Gallaraga accepted the heartfelt and anguished apology of Joyce ended all discussions other than what decent and thoughtful people they both were. Both of them a re role models. Kids should be able to look to parents, siblings, teachers–as role models. But it is always inspiring to take great stories of great people and learn from them as well. They may be civil rights leaders, moral authorities or athletes (or all in one like Jackie Robinson.)

    No one is going to try to claim that idiots like Barkley should be role models (unless you want your kid to grow up to abuse alcohol, have a gambling addiction, party ’til dawn and throw guys who heckle you in public through plate glass windows.) No single class of occupation or activity can be cited to universally be role models. Role models are self selected.

    P.S. After all the amazing games on the final night of the season, and the universal response of how great this was to promote the game of baseball, MLB can’t seriously still think about expanding the wildcards? If they did, both Boston and Tampa Bay get in, as well as Atlanta and St. Louis. No pennant races, no interest. It would be just like the NBA and the NHL which suffers through a six month exhibition season before it gets to the playoffs.
    Phil recently posted..More Responses To R.E.M.’s Retirement

  • I’m with Phil on this one. I think the nostalgia for an old time in sports comes from the reality that everything wasn’t reported back then as it is now. I’ve read a lot of historical sports books and the fact is that there were many troubled people in sports back in the day. Racists, alcoholics, and just plain old bad and ignorant people are replete throughout the history of sports.

    I had no problem with what LeBron did last year; the fact that he raised $3 million for charity by doing that keeps getting overlooked. I have no problem with what Charles Barkley said because he was absolutely true; only one of my childhood sports heroes turns out to have been the real deal, that being Roberto Clemente. There are more flawed athletes throughout history than those whose demeanors were fairly pure. We know about those guys; Walter Johnson, Harmon Killebrew, etc. We’re also about to learn that Walter Payton may not have been all that we thought he was, and that’s sad.

    Yeah, you’re getting old; that makes me feel even older. lol
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted..An Interview With Farah Jadran Of Syracuse Woman Magazine

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