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Sports culture suffered another blow in the past couple of weeks when high school quarterback standout, Mark Sanchez, now at the University of Southern California, was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a female student. This follows an NCAA investigation of whether the parents of Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush, also of USC, gained some questionable housing advantage from a businessman supporter of the team. And this follows national attention focused on allegations of assault and rape against some members of the Duke University Lacrosse team.

Athletics at the intercollegiate and professional levels are microcosms of society. There are good people and not so good people who play sports. It’s not too surprising, therefore, to think that “bad things happen” from time to time. So the fact that these kinds of incidents occurred is nothing new in American sports, but then again the intensity and frequency of such incidents seems to be increasing

Negative fan behavior, near-violent parents, cheating prima donna athletes, belligerent coaches, and dishonest officials are all now a part of the American sports scene.

So how do we move sports culture back toward achievement and sportsmanship? It’s a complicated issue, one that’s rooted in the moral fabric or lack of it in culture at large, in elementary and secondary schools, and in the home.

There aren’t enough rules or honest officials to keep athletes from misbehaving on and especially off the court or field. It all goes back to each person’s moral code.

This is one reason I’m a fan of the NAIA’s “Champions of Character” program. In this intercollegiate organization of some 300 schools nationally, the focus is on winning and on character: Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Sportsmanship, and Servant Leadership.

Cornerstone University has experienced problems, sometimes serious problems, with student athletes. But the university draws lines of acceptable behavior for student athletes and coaches and, when necessary, holds accountable those who cross the line. Sports in this context is part of life, not isolated from it. A student or a coach wins when he or she is at their best as athletes and as people. Demanding that athletes behave properly is even more important than demanding that they perform their sport well.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

So-called professional wrestling has always perplexed me. It’s crass, it’s fake, and on top of all that, it’s fairly expensive to watch: tickets over $60. These big boys are athletic, no question, but World Wide Wrestling is more about schlock entertainment than it is competitive sports.

I suppose proponents could say that watching the “morality plays” of faux wrestling is no different than watching a drama on stage or at the cinema. I mean, the star didn’t really fall five stories without injury. The actors didn’t really shoot twelve people while nary a return shot nicked them. It’s just a story. It’s entertainment. Maybe the same is true for professional wrestling.

But somehow it still seems different to me. If Jim Carrey is guilty of over-acting at times, than pro wrestlers must really be over-the-top. They yell, scream, argue, look bug-eyed into the camera, “threaten” “opponents,” develop their bodies into grotesque caricatures of the real human body, prance around in ridiculous outfits, and in general demonstrate that while they have the gift of gab they do not have facile minds.

Why would people pay good money to watch other people act like fools? I don’t know. But then again, I like comedians—at least clean comedians, and they act like fools too. God made a big world and gave us a lot of room to move around in it. I’m just glad there’s enough room for me to move away from the WWF.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Whatever the truth is regarding recent rape allegations against members of the Duke University lacrosse team it will eventually come out. One way or the other, this incident is another example of the deterioration of the American sports culture.

Members of the Duke lacrosse team have been accused of gang rape, sodomy, and strangling by an African American exotic dancer. As yet no charges have been filed, but the 16-year team coach, Mike Pressler, has resigned, and the university president, Richard Brodhead, has cancelled the lacrosse team season.

This story has all the elements to attract national attention: sex, race, male chauvinism toward women, money, athletics, violence, alcohol abuse, titillation, it’s all here. If the allegations are true then a heinous crime has been committed against a defenseless woman. Add to this a violently threatening email written by one of the lacrosse team players who has since been suspended from school. Add to this a code of silence apparently being enacted by members of the team. Add to this the lack, so far, of any sense of moral obligation on the part of players not involved in the incident. They need to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—because it is right to do, because it will aid the victim, and because they need to protect themselves.

Years ago Charles Barkley famously said, “I ain’t no role model.” He was wrong then, and he would be wrong today. Athletes are privileged with talent, notoriety, and influence. When they use these gifts unwisely they harm us all, particularly those who are younger and look up to them.

I feel for Duke University, but when the truth is known, the guilty should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. No one should be above the law in this country, including student athletes.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Barry Bonds is on track to surpass Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record of 715 four-baggers. Just a few more at bats, just a few more blasts and Bonds will have gone where no one but Hank Aaron has ever gone before. But does anyone really care?

Barry Bonds is just a human being like the rest of us, but he was blessed with major athletic talent. Sadly, for him, for professional baseball, and for us, he squandered it on steroids, human growth hormones, and a host of other chemical muscle enhancers. In other words, he cheated. Then he lied about it—repeatedly.

Bonds will never be heralded as a sports hero, and he has no one to blame but himself. He’d do well to take a Dale Carnegie course on how to win friends and influence people. Bonds is an irascible, unpleasant personality, angry at a world that gave him so much opportunity.

Pete Rose was the major league baseball disappointment of my youth. Barry Bonds is the disappointment of my middle age.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

You don’t have to watch the Olympics very long to understand why they’re the best reality show on television. Jaded sports pundits say the games are boring, but what do they know? The 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy have demonstrated once again why the games enjoy such enduring allure.

My family and I have avidly watched the games every cycle for thirty years, thrilling at victory and agonizing at defeat. There’s something incredibly pure and compelling about athletes giving their all for a chance to reach the international pinnacle of their sport.

The Olympics are a spectacle of pageantry, patriotism, world class talent, desire, discipline, and “heart.” The games are a showcase for athletically gifted individuals whose emotions are as real and as raw as the winter snow. Olympic athletes provide us with incredibly heroic efforts, not just to win the gold or even to honor the homeland, but to fulfill the Olympic spirit, to compete, to leave every ounce of effort on the field of play.

Ice skaters fall, hurt themselves then finish their routines. Downhill skiers forced outside the course by the treacherous nature of the mountain still finish the run. Cross country skiers without the talent to ever win a medal slide to the finish with as much emotion as any gold medalist has ever felt. Teenage athletes excitedly look into cameras and say into microphones whatever is on their minds, totally unaffected, honest—laughter, tears, shouts of utter joy or frustration. How can you not appreciate this unscripted drama?

But despite all the best efforts of the International Olympic Committee to protect the integrity of sport and to affirm sportsmanship, still, the Olympics are comprised of people and people do not always do the right thing. Athletes and coaches are dismissed for doping. Athletes are disqualified for cheating or for some other infraction of the rules of competition. Coaches have been known to improperly award points to athletes from theirs or a favored country. Fans sometimes commit unsportsmanlike acts. These are sad developments, but even these instances offer spectators worldwide a chance once again to celebrate the beauty of fair competition.

Then there are individuals who are a morality play all their own. Before nearly every Olympics at least one athlete is heralded as the world’s greatest in his or her sport. They’re touted by media as “bad boys” or “bad girls” because of their devil-may-care attitudes or rebel-like lifestyle. Then the get to the Olympics and don’t win anything, partly if not largely because they’ve squandered their talent and their opportunity on arrogance. They believed the media hype and thought they didn’t have to sacrifice, only to watch some underdog with arguably less talent take their place on the medal podium.

This year’s poster boy for flippancy might be American downhill skier Bode Miller, who made the cover of Newsweek before the games due in part to earlier athletic achievements and due in part to his “I’ll do it my way” attitude that the media loves so much. He still has a chance at this writing, but so far he is 0 for Olympics, wiping out in three of his five events. Meanwhile, his hard partying lifestyle apparently continues.

On the flip side is American speed skater Joey Cheek, who has donated his $25,000 Gold medal money for the 500 m and his $15,000 Silver medal bonus from the 1000 m to a charity called Right to Play. The money is designated to help Sudanese refugee children in Chad. Cheek is winning accolades on and off the ice for his attitude, humility, and generosity.

But that’s the Olympics, the good and the not so good right alongside the excellent. So despite fawning media and over-hyped people and products, every two years the Olympics still offer us a seat at the greatest of all games. I’ll be watching, I’ll cheer for the USA, and I’ll cheer for the underdog, whoever he or she may be.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

This week’s Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl, and for that matter the Sugar Bowl, all show-cased some of the very best drama in top level intercollegiate football. Pageantry, competitiveness, excellence, achievement, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It was all there for anyone who cared to tune in.

Unless you’re from West Virginia, you probably don’t know much about the state or even where it is. My wife is from West Virginia, so over the years we’ve actually heard otherwise well-educated people ask if she knows this or that person “in Richmond.” We’ve also endured people who seriously seem to think that all West Virginians walk around barefoot, drink moonshine, and don’t know what a library is. So, yes, we rooted for West Virginia University in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, and yes, we were happy when WVU beat Georgia 38-35. This is a big win for WVU—for the football program, for the conference, for the school, and probably for the state.

It’s genuinely too bad the people of WV could not celebrate the victory for long, for it was understandably replaced on the front pages by the tragic loss of 12 out of 13 miners at the Sago Mine near Tallmansville, West Virginia. That sad story, compounded by confusing misinformation in the midst of rescue attempts, has placed West Virginia squarely in the nation’s focus for the past several days. Mining is still the lifeblood of the state’s economy, so this accident and loss of life strikes home for nearly everyone in this state that Governor Joe Manchin called, “a tough little state with good and tough people.”

Back to football, watching 79 year old Coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State University Nittany Lions defeat 76 year old Coach Bobby Bowden of the Florida State University Seminoles in three overtimes, 26-23, in the Fedex Orange Bowl was priceless. If that wasn’t enough, the next night the University of Texas Longhorns upset the two time national champion, 34 game-win-streak, University of Southern California Trojans, 41-38, in the Rose Bowl. Celebrities, Heisman trophy winners, pageantry, Keith Jackson probably doing his last bowl game, great weather, fans and fanatics, you name it, this game had it.

I’m waxing eloquent, or at least waxing, on all this because I think it is an incredible example of the beauty and sheer enjoyment afforded competitive athletics—free of steroids and other substances, point shaving and gambling, and other forms of cheating. Athletics at its best is an opportunity for men and women to perfect and demonstrate exceptional talent, skills, and execution. At its best, athletics is as much about “heart,” goals, striving, and achievement, as it is about physical talents. Athletics at its best is part of the best in the human story.

I was never a great or even a very good athlete. But I am at times a good maybe even a great fan. Three cheers for all that’s compelling about athletics at its pinnacle.

By the way, we did not go to the game, but we were in Pasadena for the Rose Parade—the first parade in the rain since 1955—not just rain, pouring rain. It was wet, cool, still beautiful and amazing, and fun.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.