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It Isn’t About the Sport, Is It?

Can I Take a Nap First  isn’t very sports-inclined, but what we do notice are trends.  Maybe it’s a stretch, but this week’s focus on A-Rod and the Biogenesis suspensions made me very aware of three recent obituaries of NFL players:

(Note:  Links are to the NY Times obits)

George Sauer, who played for the NY Jets as a teammate of Joe Namath in the historic win over the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl, was 69 when he passed last May from congestive heart failure and struggles with Alzheimer’s disease.   Despite his athletic gifts, Sauer retired from football at age 27 citing the “chauvinistic authority” and dehumanizing elements of professional football.  He called professional football “a grotesque business” designed to “mold you into someone easy to manipulate.  He lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity, an autodidact, working on his writing.  George Sauer

Jim Hudson, who was a critical defensive back for the Jets on the historic 1969 team, died at age 70 from Parkinson’s dementia. Hudson requested that his brain and spine be donated to researchers at Boston University who are studying the relationship between head trauma and neurological disease.   In effect to give players (especially young ones) more protection in the sport.  Jim Hudson 

Art Donovan, All-Pro defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts and modest jokester, died at age 89.  He authored an autobiography:  Fatso: Football When Men Were Really Men (1987).  In the book he made mention that he was a light eater, in that “I never started eating until it was light.”  The other fact I discovered made me salute his mother:  he was born weighing 17 pounds.  His obit closed with the quote “I was lucky enough to play football, and everyone liked me.  That’s it.”  It’s also worth noting that his top salary as a professional football player was $22,000.  Art Donovan 

Athletes have physical gifts.  They are able to train and use their bodies in ways we mortals can only admire.  We enjoy watching them play their sports as much as we hope they enjoy playing (albeit they are professionals who draw a salary to play).   But the three men above strike me as adults who made some hard decisions about their careers.  Yes, they achieved some remarkable things playing football, but above all, they were human.

Is it the high stakes of professional sports that push players to risk both their careers and health with performance enhancing drugs?  Are we kidding ourselves as fans when we are “shocked” by the allegations and admissions of sports figures?  Are we too quick to elevate any athlete to superstar (super human?) status when we buy into the hype about them?

It’s not a surprise that this generation of sports figures are passing from this life, but the timing of these deaths just make me wonder if suspensions, asterisks and scandals are how we will remember anybody (not just athletes) in the future.

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5 thoughts on “It Isn’t About the Sport, Is It?

  1. if i werent such a big football fan, i would suggest that the sport be illegal. we get pleasure out of watching athletes become cripples?!?!

    btw…. i am on the edge of my seat…. when do we get the next installment about ruby???

    1. LOL, Notorious! I thought I could buy myself a little more tinkering time on the fiction with this post. But you flatter me with your insistence. 🙂 Stand by, your anticipation is inspiring.

  2. I think US fans are kidding themselves re: steroid and performance-enhancing drug use. Everyone’s all shocked and shaken over Lance Armstrong ‘doping’ but it’s endemic to the sport. Here’s a 2009 article from Sports Illustrated on the difference in opinion between US and Europe on the topic. But with the ‘war on drugs’ in the US it’s hard to turn a blind eye to drug use by athletes.

    It’s too bad that sports are such big business. As long as there’s money to be made from the players, the team owners don’t much care what they do.

    1. No doubt the $$ is the biggest “motivator.” So many players take risks for that one big score/contract, and to get it as fast as possible. Which isn’t all that dissimilar from other vocations where there is the chance of a big pay-off. Human nature? Maybe, but if you’re a plagiarist/shady fund manager you may be morally bankrupt, but you won’t potentially shorten your life span with PED.

  3. I think the saddest part about the drug usage to enhance their performance is somewhere in their career they looked at themselves and didn’t see their accomplishments…only that they wanted to be bigger better faster more. They felt like the risk to their health was worth the small bright flash of flaming fame that it becomes. Truth is, when you look back on your life, those moments are small compared to the time you deny yourself.

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