OPINION/SOCIETY/SPORTS

SPORTS: THE UNSPOKEN DRUG

As I was driving to return a rental from a long weekend trip a few weeks ago, I listened to hours of talk radio sounding off on Don Imus and his statements regarding the NFL player Pacman Jones and the whole Shaq vs. Kobe rap song. People were calling in to offer their views. A lot of comments made sense, while other callers just wanted to hear themselves on the air. However, the one thing no one seemed to mention was the issue beneath the surface of both of these events. A comment or two about the harmful effects sports has on the black community would have been welcome. In my opinion, it’s right up there with illicit drugs and alcohol.

I was reminded of a conversation I had about 15 years ago with a fellow parent at a Pop Warner football game my sons participated in. Both my sons played on an inner-city team and we were playing a suburban team at their very nice field. We engaged in a serious conversation about sports and the opposing views of our parent base versus the white faces staring directly at us from across the field.

We talked about the role of sports in the respective communities (white/black) as we watched the pint size gladiators clash. As we concluded, the brother I was speaking with summarized what we spent the whole time verbalizing in one short profound statement: “in the white community they raise their kids to use sports as a vehicle to access higher educational opportunities, learn team work, run an organization, network, etc. But in the black community, we try to raise pros.” I never forgot that statement.

So, playing the role of an attorney I will present my case as to why I say sports should be classified in the same category as drugs and alcohol for the damage it’s done to the black community.

When you look at the impact of sports on the black community and the tight strangle-hold it has on the community, what have been the overwhelming positive effects? Yes, it has provided a few opportunities for employment, chances to attend certain colleges and universities. Some would argue it’s a healthy activity and kids are learning character. I don’t agree with that philosophy.

I think sports reveals your character, but that’s for another time. A few of our athletes have made it out of the ghetto and financially can help their family and friends. Sports can take you around the world; it brings people from different racial, social and political backgrounds together for a common purpose (root for the home team). These are all true statements, but do the positives outweigh the side effects?

Consider this. Too many of our young people think the only way to make it in life is through sports and entertainment. Many of the athletes that do go on to college never finish their degree requirements, despite using up all 4 years of athletic eligibility. We spend an absurd amount on clothing (sneakers, shorts, etc). Church attendance is down on game days. Thousands of young men put all of their stock in making it to the league, and once the dream ends, they often suffer from depression, shock, guilt, and withdrawal.

If they had the opportunity to play major college ball, many of those young men lived in a world (illusion) created by the universities, one in which they lacked for nothing, they stayed at the best hotels, traveled first class, ate at the finest restaurants, had access to high powered people, groupies, TV exposure, and the best medical attention that money could buy. But once they exit those doors and leave the friendly confines of the school that they gave their hearts and souls to, what happens to them next? Many will end up right back to the place they started; broken, demoralized and sometimes chemically dependent. How else will they get the same pain meds that helped them run for a touchdown or make the big hit at the Sugar Bowl when they are back on mama’s couch with no medical insurance? These are just some of the ill effects of sports dependency.

Additional arguments to support my case:

Exhibit A: Go to any basketball court or playing field and you will see hundreds of guys out there playing not just for the love of the game or to stay in shape, but to recapture past glory, or play in countless semi-pro / recreational leagues in hopes of maybe catching someone’s eye or receiving one more invitation to a free agent camp. I’ve witnessed this vicious cycle first hand, when I dreamt of playing pro-ball in the NBA, CBA, USBL, Europe or anywhere. Coming from a small college, I knew the odds were stacked against me. I attended quite a few free agent camps of semi-pro and start up leagues in hopes of catching on. While at one free agent camp in Atlanta, I saw something that became a sobering reality for me as to how powerful the world of sports had become.

First off, there was a long line of people registering, more people than I ever seen before, and there were two ex-NBA players trying out. One of them was an NBA scoring legend (he was playing when I was a small kid) and the other was just a year or two removed from winning an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet, here they were in a camp with the rest of us, trying to live that dream.

Something else profound also happened during this camp experience. Myself and a couple of friends were at the motel and we had a chance encounter with the wife of a young man who had just come from a basketball camp in Indiana. He had at least six more camps lined up. This young sister needed to vent, and we were the unsuspecting audience. She shared her frustrations, and it was visible how much she had become worn down. She wanted to support her husbands dream, yet she was getting sick and tired of the traveling and staying in motels and small nowhere towns for days on end. The picture of the powerful addiction of sports was starting to become clearer.

Drugs, alcohol and sports have a lot in common. They are there to take your mind off of daily pressures. There are dealers and pushers. For sports it’s the media and the carefully crafted images of black athletes who appear to have made it. They make you feel good for a moment, but you eventually come crashing down from the high. They are addictive, they are used for entertainment purposes and its no coincidence that when you have a large number of people living within or below poverty, the one thing you can count on is that they will spend just about every dollar on entertainment.

The people on Madison Avenue know this; just check out the type of commercials that air during sporting events!

The poor are preyed on. Look around your community. What type of businesses do you see? Most of them have something to do with entertainment: hair and nail salons, fast food, liquor stores, easy access to check cashing, pay day loans, furniture rental companies, (because you just have to have the Big screen HD TV to watch the games) etc.

Sports are interwoven into our daily lives, especially in this country. But, it must be kept within the proper context. Too many lives have been ruined by its pursuit.

The prosecution rests!

Tony Price is a collegiate athletics administrator and head basketball coach with over 20 years experience as an athlete and instructor. His unique perspective on sports and society are also featured on his blog, “The Darker Shade of Sports,” www.darkersh