Ramblings on Sports in the Wake of Deflategate

First, the best perspective…

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. – Romans 12:2

Whether you happen to be a dedicated follower of sports, a casual fan, or you simply couldn’t care less, you likely have heard about ‘Deflategate’, the recent issue concerning the New England Patriots NFL team. This event has caused me to spend some time thinking about sports in our society and the implications for children.

Super Bowl Football
Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski / The Associated Press

Sports is intertwined with our society and has become a much larger part of our lives than it was when I was a child. In those days, there were very few games on television and these were mostly on the weekends. Today, due to greatly expanded television coverage, it’s possible to watch one’s favorite team every time they play. We also know much more about the personal lives of the athletes, providing details that almost make us feel as though we know them personally.

The result is that we see the good, exciting, and fascinating action of the games as they are played, but we also see the bad – the sordid details of men and women’s lives – the things  that used to be kept private… the dark side of human nature as athletes (and teams) attempt to gain an edge through trickery, deceit, and cheating.

And yet it’s only natural that children and teens look to the world of sports for men and women to admire. Adults do this as well. We have a natural appreciation for athletes who perform at high levels, leading to individual success, but also home team, and even national honor. But where can concerned parents find genuine and solid role models for their children who follow and play sports? Unfortunately, we see and hear far too many stories of athletes – some of them well known stars – who become ‘news’ based upon poor decisions and actions.

I have been a devoted fan of several teams for many years, including the Chicago Cubs baseball team and the Miami Dolphins football team, both since1971.  I also have followed the Syracuse University basketball team since 1975, when they made a miraculous run to the NCAA Final Four. I look forward to the Olympic Games, both summer and winter and I casually follow other sports as well.

However,  throughout more than 45 years of at least general interest in sports and several teams in particular, I have taken note of scandal after scandal, some more serious than others. Following are just a few that I clearly recall, many of which were greatly disappointing:

Ben Johnson: Olympic athlete (doping)
Marion Jones: Olympic athlete (doping)
Lance Armstrong: Pro cyclist (doping)
Pete Rose: MLB manager (gambling)
Sammy Sosa: MLB player (corked bat)
Michael Vick: Pro Football (dog fighting)
OJ Simpson: Pro Football (murder, etc.)
Aaron Hernandez: Pro Football (murder)
Vijay Singh: Pro golfer (doping and cheating)
Tiger Woods: Pro golfer (morality issues)
Many in Major League Baseball (doping – too many to list)
Many in Professional Football (violence – too many to list)
New England Patriots (videotaping and deflated balls)
New Orleans Saints (bounties paid for ‘big hits’)
Miami Dolphins (bullying scandal)
Penn State University (child sex scandal and cover-up)
Boxing (decades of scheming and corruption)
Olympic Games (bribery regarding bids for Salt Lake City)
Major College Sports (academic fraud – numerous cases)

Again, this is just a partial list. Those who want to see more examples, many of which are quite familiar, just Google ‘sports scandals’. There’s plenty to read about and frankly, it’s somewhat discouraging.

When we see news reports of cheating and other poor behavior, we must ask ourselves questions and look for answers.  Which athlete
is truly worthy of emulation? Who is worthy of respect and honor? Where is the athlete that a dad can point to and say to his son or daughter: “Watch this man or this woman. Learn from him (her). Do what he (she) does.”?

It’s more than simply what the athlete does while playing the game. Look for strength of character. Watch closely for the qualities of integrity – those words and deeds that separate a public figure from the rest of their peers. These are the people our children can be encouraged to emulate.

There is always a risk. The good and decent qualities clearly seen in people over time can suddenly disappear, causing us to wonder how we could be fooled. Oh the perils of looking to men and women as examples! Perhaps the key is to turn these disappointments into teachable moments with our children. Have a meaningful discussion about human nature and the need for your family to stay focused on the good and to maintain the best and highest priorities.

A good reputation takes years of diligent effort to build, but can be destroyed in a moment of foolishness or stupidity. The question is, How can the parents of young and impressionable children overcome the negative stories from the world of sports? Here are some suggestions.

Look for those you believe to be role models who are worthy of admiration and follow their exploits, both on and off the court/field. Some of these men and women might not be superstar caliber as far as their particular sport is concerned, but they are high quality individuals who model good character in their daily lives.

Look for and follow those who have modeled a consistent lifestyle and who have lived by good principles over a long period of time. Consistency is important.

Teach your children life principles of character, integrity, respect, honor, sound judgement, and help them learn to properly evaluate others based upon these concepts. Begin when they are young and model them in your own life. Be consistent in your teaching and in your expectations and they will be strong as they grow older.

When someone your child admires makes a mistake or has a lapse
in judgement, try to ascertain the facts and then use the case as an opportunity to reinforce the principles that your family believes to
be important.

Teach your children to learn to play their sport with a solid set of life principles and to look for high level athletes who set good examples in sportsmanship and lifestyle. Young people should be encouraged to compete to the best of their ability, but also to never compromise on that which is good and right and fair. As a parent, look for coaches who will model standards of living based upon what you believe to be important. This is more valuable than the technical skills and strategy that a coach can provide.

Deflategate is just one more incident in a lengthy list of individual athletes, high level teams, and sports programs that have provided poor examples for children and teens. The best we can do as adults
is to turn these disappointments into times of instruction and then remember that in the ranking of our own life priorities, the athletic accomplishments of favored teams and players should be quite low.

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© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2015

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