Today's athletes are no heroes

Thomas 'Keifer' Gray

Last week, Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin entered into a plea-bargain where he would pay a $10,000 fine, be put on four years' probation and do 800 hours of community service for felony cocaine possession. The week before, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Bam Morris pleaded guilty to possession of six pounds of marijuana and was placed on probation, fined $7,000 and ordered to do 200 hours of community service.

Had neither Irvin nor Morris been high-profile sports personalities, both of them would have probably been on their way to prison. However, because this sports-obsessed country bends over backward to protect these so-called "heroes," they got off virtually free.

In fact, the deal reached between Irvin and prosecutors even stipulates that, should Irvin remain out of trouble for the next four years, the felony charges against him will be cleared from his record.

Sports in this country are out of control. If the Irvin and Morris examples do not make this evident, then last week's signing of Shaquille O'Neal to a seven-year, $120 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers makes it crystal clear. Apparently the $115 million the Orlando Magic offered to keep him was simply not enough, so the super-sized superstar who can't hit free throws was off to Hollywood.

In order to compensate for Shaq's huge new salary, the Lakers must raise ticket prices accordingly. So, the prices of the cheapest seats in the Forum are being raised to $21 from $9.50. No wonder new sports arenas are being built with as many luxury boxes as possible: In a few years, the corporate bigwigs that buy those suites are the only ones who will be able to afford to go to the games at all.

Sports used to be about the thrill of competition and the love of the game. Players used to be loyal to their fans and their cities. Teams used to be sources of community pride.

However, those days are over. There is only one thrill, one loyalty, one love in sports today: money. Anybody who thinks otherwise is simply a relic of a simpler, more naive time when baseball players would go to the bar across the street from the stadium to have a beer with their fans after the game, and rivalries like Dodgers vs. Giants were more important than Nike vs. Reebok.

If we sports fans are outraged at the greed that drives professional sports today, at the way players abuse their status as role models or at the way teams move from city to city in search of the best publicly financed stadium deal, then we should fight back.

We can voice our opinion by refusing to buy merchandise, by turning off the TV or by staying away from the games. However, as long as we continue to be mindlessly hypnotized by the hype and glamour of the professional sports world, we will be tacitly supporting its skewed sense of values.

Gray is a senior architecture major who wouldn't know what to do with $120 million.

Last Modified: 8-17-96    © 1996 The Daily Cougar

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