I grew up taking last second shots on makeshift backyard rims and playing tackle football in between passing cars on concrete streets and I loved every minute of it. We didn’t have much, but our creativity and love for sports kept us going. I look back at our deflated footballs, and box crate rims and realized it was about the loving the game and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Or would I?
In 2011, I got a pro contract offer to play for the arena team Harrisburg Stampede. I was overjoyed and consider that one of the greatest moments of my life. But I also remember sitting in my condo thinking about how suddenly, football wasn’t just a sport for me; it became a business and it’s not possible to love the game the same way with sponsors, interviews, and dollar signs being put on my head and helmet. I quickly got over that and enjoyed every minute of two-a-days and late night partying. Fast forward to 2015; I’m still an avid fan of the game but now, I realize that loving the game isn’t what makes young people want to play anymore. Where did the relationship between the pureness of sport and the inherently dirt of money start to merge? Simple; the minute a dollar got introduced to young athletes.
Often, kids decide choose their favorite player because they too, want to run fast, jump high, do incredible things in the air and smile all the while. Athletes are modern day superheroes to most kids (and frankly, some adults too). So emulating them makes perfect sense. In the current culture, everyone is looking for the next big thing and that includes companies, schools, and websites; that’s where the game goes south. By the age 10, kids are being ranked amongst other kids across the nation, thrown into three to four travel team tournaments over the summer, and enduring countless hours of practice and gym time. While I’m not in position to say whether that’s appropriate or not I will say at this point, the game is no longer about fun. Some might call it child exploitation but we can also call it the ultimate “come up”. From numerous business cards slipped into mom’s hand as they leave the game to free clothes and sneakers that get delivered to the house monthly, kids are not blind. They can see that if they keep playing, everybody wins… right?
This summer I watched the greatest example of this but the plot twist is… It came from the pro ranks. Over the summer we eagerly watched and waited as Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks was in position to join just about any team he wanted and further his legacy. His leading options were to:
- Earn 80 to 87 million dollars over four years to play for the Chicago Bulls who are a championship caliber team, hosting two of the most dominant players in the game today, in a major market city. Essentially, the only thing on the to-do list was for Anthony to win a championship.
- Earn 124 million dollars over 5 years with the New York Knicks who are coming off of an abysmal 37-45 record, did not qualify for the playoffs , and are not considered a championship caliber team.
Which did Anthony pick?
The money, of course! For a while I was confused by the decision and didn’t understand why playing for the Knicks made any sense but the truth is, just like those those 9 and 10 year olds being wooed, Anthony has been groomed to make such a decision his whole career . Championship wins are nice. But I have yet to see someone accept an O’Brien trophy as a mortgage payment. It does not compare to financial benefit. Most professional athletes don’t play for the love of the game anymore and I’m not sure I blame them. From the moment I saw Lebron James ride around in a Hummer, and sport $300.00 throwback jerseys in as a high school senior while his mother lived in ” the hood” I realized that going the extra mile and sacrificing everything to succeed is byproduct of getting that 124 million dollar deal.
Now, I love sports more than I love just about anything else in this world but I’m not blind to the motive of what keeps players going. So these ideas of why they play don’t ruin the sport for me and I hope it doesn’t for you.
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