Hi. My name is Ron B. and I am a “sportsaholic.” I am finally able to admit it after spending the second half of last weekend (and a few more days as well) locked in my house, analyzing and over-analyzing my beloved Longhorn’s recent loss to a clearly “inferior” football team. (Yeah, we’re still arrogant, even after a loss.) And I’m not the only one. (You guys know who you are…or, at least, your wives do.) For the past 36+ hours, I have commiserated with other equally frustrated “ex”-Longhorn fanatics, agonizing over poor coaching decisions, players not living up to their billings, poor use of time-outs, bad calls by referees, ill-advised passes, failure to establish a running game, inability to adjust to the other team’s successes, wasted recruiting efforts, and all the other “important” issues of the day (at least, that day). Despite the fact that none of my friends have ever donned a sports uniform (besides those highly competitive “40 and over” leagues at the Jewish Community Center), we seemed to have all the answers for what went wrong that miserable day. Phones began ringing off the wall, emails flew halfway across the country (and back), travel itineraries for future games were canceled (only to be rescheduled the next day), wives and kids (and dogs) were snubbed, plans for the rest of the weekend were ruined. (Luckily, I had no plans for the rest of the weekend.) And we all vowed never to give our undying loyalty to this team again, a sentiment we last shared on October 12. By the time Monday morning rolled around, I was forced to get off the couch, turn off the umpteenth episode of Sports Center, and attempt to return to the real world.
That morning, I realized that I (and my fellow die-hard sportsaholics) are part of the problem with what’s wrong with sports today. Over-zealous fans place too much emphasis on these contests and forget that these games are just that…games. (At least, some of “you” do.) We boo 18 year olds for dropping passes or missing shots, unconcerned that they are just kids and should be more worried about grades than victories (like we were). We glorify “bulked-up” athletes for the records they set, despite the fact that they are often induced by illegal enhancement drugs and may suffer side effects years after their feats are forgotten. Egotistical athletes get big heads (literally) and shun their role model status, while serving as poor examples to our nation’s youth. Overpaid millionaire ballplayers argue with billionaire owners (who cry about excessive financial losses) and threaten to strike over their already outrageous salaries (which we pay). Today’s players don’t respect coaches and some have been known to physically assault them over on-court disagreements. Others believe they are above the law and often get a mere slap on the wrist for major run-ins that would have landed “normal” people in jail (or rehab). Still others seem more concerned with personal glory and perform ridiculous celebrations (or sign autographs) in the middle of the game. In attempts to motivate, coaches berate college kids for not living up to expectations (on the field) by calling them disgraces to their own families (or worse). Even the media contributes to these problems by putting high school kids on the covers of prominent sports magazines. Is it any wonder that more and more of these kids are foregoing that “free” college education for the bright lights (and dollar signs) of the professional leagues?
A SPORTS STORY TO REMEMBER
And just when I am ready to give up on sports altogether (or, at least, until next week’s game), I am reminded of a true sports hero, Jake Porter. Many of you may not have heard of young Jake. He cannot run the court or shoot a fade-away jumper like Michael Jordan or hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods. He won’t be signing any multi-million dollar contracts with a professional team or representing our country in the Olympic Games. Yet, Jake and his coaches and teammates epitomize all that is right with sports, and make me realize that it is still OK to be a fan. Jake plays high school football in McDermott, Ohio. He is not the star of the team; in fact, prior his team’s final game of the season, he had not participated in a single play. Instead, he showed up for each and every practice, wore his uniform with pride, and cheered for his teammates from the sidelines during each game. He never complained about his lack of playing time or disagreed with any of the coaches’ decisions. You see, Jake is inflicted with Chromosomal Fragile X, a common cause of mental retardation. I read about his story a few weeks ago and was so moved that I need to remember it each and every time I get carried away with the outcome of some game (which happens quite often).
Prior to his team’s taking the field for the last time this year, his coach asked the opposing coach if he could put Jake into the game for one play at the end of the game. He knew how much it would mean to Jake and his family if he could simply run onto the field and feel even more a part of the team. With the clock winding down, the two coaches huddled in the middle of the field with the referee and agreed to let Jake play. His team was losing 42-0 at the time so the outcome was not in doubt. Though he would have surely loved to record a shutout, this opposing coach suggested that Jake carry the ball and run for a touchdown. He instructed his players not to tackle Jake, but instead to move out of the way while he ran as fast as he could to the endzone. Jake came into the game and took the handoff. Unsure of exactly what he was supposed to do, he hesitated as teammates (and even opposing players) urged him to run to glory. They even ran alongside him, 49 yards, on the way to scoring his team’s only touchdown that day. No opposing player or fan objected to letting Jake score; instead, they stood and applauded (and even shed tears) as he ran into his school’s record books.
A TRUE INSPIRATION
Jake, along with the coaches and other players, became true heroes that day. He is constantly recognized and congratulated when he walks the halls in his school and around his hometown. The story has been highlighted on national news; the video has been run and rerun on ESPN and can be seen on the Internet. Everyone involved should serve as inspirations to all of us: the “Monday morning quarterback” fan who takes his sports teams way too seriously; those coaches who put winning that game above all else in importance; the media which often glorifies individuals for their abilities to run fast, hit a ball, or make a basket; and especially those professionals who often forget the pride they should feel merely for wearing a uniform. Years from now, no one will remember the score of that Ohio high school game. No one will remember which team won or lost. Hopefully, they will remember Jake’s inspiring story. It makes us all realize what sports (and sportsmanship) are supposed to represent.
I feel certain that next week (or the week after), I will once again grow frustrated with the play of my team and the ridiculous decisions the “incompetent” coaches made. I will curse the TV, trade angry phone calls, and shoot emails across the country. I will swear to never again waste my weekends watching these games, when I could be spending time doing more important things (I’m not sure what). When that happens, I hope I remember the story of this hero, Jake Porter, and realize that it’s OK to still be a fanatic. My name is Ron B. and I am a sportsaholic.