by Mark Synder
I hate slow pitch softball. No other “sport” fosters the illusion of athletic ability quite like it. A ball, the size of a grapefruit, is served up on a silver platter to a guy with a super charged carbon fiber bat on a field no bigger than my back yard. Blurry tribal tattoos, presumably permanent, on full display about arms that would be better served if the sleeves had not been cut off with cousin Earl’s knife. Manly nicknames and numbers ironed on to shirts that proudly display a team name that almost always incorporate the words Bad News and “Insert Noun Here”.
I watched just such a scene this past Sunday night. A player, we will call him Bubba, stepped to the on deck circle and began his ritual. He reached up and turned his hat backward, wrapped, unwrapped and then wrapped again the Velcro straps on his batting gloves three times before finally stepping into the box. There he stood, snazzy multi-colored bat waving slowly in the air as he waited on some helpless young woman to loft the ball his way. The wind up, delivery and pitch. Smack. The ball went out of the park landing just beyond this pathetic looking chain-link fence. Ah yes Bubba had himself a dinger. I watched as this goof did everything just shy of the Mattingly fist pump while he trotted about the dusty infield. His team barely able to contain themselves flooded the field in celebration. You would have sworn it was a walk off homer in game seven of the World Series. There were secrete handshakes, a little chant of some sort and more high fives than I could count. Most remarkable was the stare Bubba gave the pitcher as he taunted her walking off the field. The pitcher who had long since lost intrest never noticed. But I did.
I started to wonder, how is it that success between the lines has the power to redefine what we know to be wrong? If a homerun in co-ed softball game is just cause for Bubba to taunt some poor young woman, how much inhibition would $53.5 million and the title starting running back for the Tennessee Titans buy him?
As I continued to watch this casserole of disaster, I decided to ponder this idea of status induced entitlement a little further. I don’t want to eat my vegetables. I want to stay up an hour later. I don’t feel like going to class today. Can I copy your homework? Mom send money for laundry (beer). This shiny new truck is a tax write-off if I put this magnetic sign on the side; to be removed evenings and weekends. One more beer and I can still make it home. She is a college co-ed in a nowhere bar, who cares. I have to carry this gun to the bar. My wife will never find out. It wasn’t murder the jury said so.
I concluded that, although the object of our desire change over time, the scale used to measure the appropriateness of our actions to attain them them changes with status. If we do not want to eat our vegetables as a child, it is okay to pitch a fit because our status is that of a child. If we want to buy an extravagant vehicle for our business, and are willing to roll the dice with the IRS with regard to justifying it, we can because we are small business owners. If we think we can have a drink with another woman and our wife will never be the wiser, knock yourself out. Sad as it may be, we now live in a world and at a time where moral and legal defense exists to help us justify them.
We do not need much of an imagination to see how the scale of our desires would change if we are a professional football player. Consider this. If you made a million dollars a year after taxes, you would pull in a game check of about $62K a week. Holy crap and potatoes! $62K a week! You could literally walk in to a car dealership and write a check for a pretty nice ride. I prefer the CTS-V two door coupe.
At a point in time where one’s income surpasses a practical limit, what was once good enough becomes no good at all. It’s like driving on the interstate at 70MPH. When you first do it, exciting, after 100 miles, boring. It becomes boring because you have become used to it. Like cold water in a swimming pool,like the Cincinnati Bengals sucking, like Lady GaGa wearing a meat dress; predictable and expected.
It is unlikely that any of us can understand the sort of person that makes it to the NFL. They are physical and mental specimens that have fed off their own ambitions and the roar of a crowd for as long as they have been alive. Scoring a touchdown on a Sunday afternoon for them is driving 70 on the interstate for us. Lucky for them there status in life allows them the opportunity and resources to find stimulation from, shall we say, a path less traveled. Boinking a Co-ed in a dank bar restroom, watching dog’s kill each other, carrying a gun when we know we have no legal right to do so.
Now here is the kicker, I propose that there is a growing sense on the part of the fan that they too are entitled to stop outside the boundaries of their status to fulfill their desires. Let me be perfectly clear with this, I am not suggesting that fans gaining identity through their team is new, I am saying the behavior that fans engage is becoming more and more violent. Remember the fight at the 49ers Raiders game a few weeks back? It is as if some fans feel they can rent social status for the price of a football jersey.
I am an engineer, not an economist or sociologist, but I don’t feel like I am stretching too far to say that Joe and Jane Q. public use sports to help define their identity. For some people, I am betting Bubba is one of them, they work a job they feel is meaningless and below them. Or with the tanking economy, perhaps they work no job at all. Maybe they are people like my father. One of the most brilliant electrical engineers I know. Quiet, thoughtful, loving father and husband who is just bored with life. Every Penn State weekend form the time I was 6 years old I watched him transform in to a rabid maniac fan of his school. I remember watching him chant “Shit on Pitt” and screaming till he had no voice as State took it to Notre Dame. Then as Sunday morning arrived, and he climbed in to the pulpit, it was back to life as normal and no one was the wiser.
My intention here is not to do a doctoral dissertation on ethics in professional sports. Nor is it to discuss the specific crimes of professional football players. Lord knows there has been enough of that done to last us a lifetime. Rather I just want to create some persepctive. Consider this, JC Watts said “Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.” Which person are you? Now ask yourself, if you knew for a fact just how heavy the crown weighs on the head of a millionaire professional football player, would you still be the same ole’ Bubba?