OK, so it’s been a while since Part 1…sue me. Actually, please don’t. Just read and comment please!
The microscope – I talked about officiating in the last post, and one thing that really annoys me about modern sports is that because of all the technology we have today every single call can be scrutinized, replayed, debated, blogged about, and whined about for all of eternity. Any time there’s a slightly incorrect call media types and fans cry and moan about it like their world was coming to an end.
Between whining about the officiating and obsessing over team-building (free agency, the draft, potential trades), it doesn’t seem like anyone talks about the actual games. Because of how negative and cynical everyone likes to be online you hardly ever hear anyone talking about how good a game was or how well someone played. LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, has led his team to 3 straight finals, and just had one of the best regular seasons in the history of the game, but all everyone wants to do is talk about his supposed shortcomings. In the first game of the 2013 finals he had 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists but his team lost and people were saying he didn’t do enough because he needed to score more. 18/18/10! That’s a monster game! It’s just ridiculous.
The Fans – In one sense it’s kind of silly to complain about obsessed fans (fans is short for “fanatic” after all), but I guess I’m mostly talking about fans online. People are 10x as annoying online, and it gets pretty tiring. There are of course the endless arguments, mostly about who was/is the better player, and flame wars common to any online “discussion”, but again because of the microscope fans have access to a lot more information than they used to and as they say a little knowledge is dangerous.
Big sidenote/tangent: This brings me to one of the more interesting philosophical/moral quandaries of our time: is the internet making us dumber or smarter? I read a fascinating book called What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr and it shows pretty convincingly that using the internet and all the other modern electronics does effect us, due to a quality called “plasticity” that our brains possess. Basically our brains will reshape themselves to better perform the tasks we ask it to do, and the way we live now has definitely changed the way our brains work. Whether that’s good or bad isn’t as simple of a question to answer. Evidence seems to point to our brains working at more of a surface level when online, as opposed to the deeper state achieved when reading a book or studying a subject (and no, reading on a Kindle doesn’t make your brain engage at a deeper level; it’s still an electronic device with hyperlinks and other distractions that keeps your brain at a very surface-y level). So it’s very possible that we are slowly getting worse at deep thinking and becoming more and more superficial.
Getting back to sports, this means there are a lot of people out there who think they know a lot more than they do. You’ll see fans on message boards advocating for certain trades or certain moves a team should make, but due to the incredibly complex salary caps in sports (except baseball), these trades may be very unlikely or even impossible. And that doesn’t even factor in whether or not it’s a good basketball trade in the first place. Every NBA highlight video has commenters complaining about traveling, when most people don’t really understand what the rules for traveling actually are. Most fans are pretty clueless in general and of course the most vocal ones are usually the most clueless of all.
The Players – In the old days players used to be basically normal people who were really good at a sport and got paid a nice, but not exorbitant, amount of money. They lived normal lives, some of them even had offseason jobs. But now sports are so huge and there is so much money involved that the players don’t lead normal lives at all, starting with their childhood.
Good players are scouted and recruited as early as 12 years old now. High school games are nationally broadcast, and there are lists of the best 13 year old pro prospects. All this scrutiny and attention puts the super talented kids, the ones that can eventually make it to the pros, on an elite path. They often transfer to high schools that specialize in producing athletes. They go to special camps, join elite teams, and become used to being scouted and dealing with the media. And of course all of it goes to their heads. By the time these players get to the big leagues they’re used to a privileged life and their lives are so far removed from the normal person’s that it’s hard for the two to relate.
Another related problem is that these elite players begin associating together, playing in AAU games and various tournaments, attending the same camps, etc., very early on. By the time they get to the pros they’re all buddies and pals, and it takes a lot of the edge off the competitive aspect of the game. Every league is basically one big club, and it feels like most players care a lot more about money and living the life than giving their all to win.
I could go on, but this is plenty long. I realize I sound like “You kids get off my lawn!” and that what seems weird and strange to me seems normal to younger sports fans. The older you get the better the old days were and all that. It’s not like sports are hurting; they’re more popular and money-making than ever. But they’re not getting any money from me and now you know some of the reasons why!