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For love of the game?

By Dan Beck

I miss the days when I was younger. Back in those times, I looked at sports through one scope: the games. My first sports memory is watching Super Bowl XXXI. The great Reggie White along with Brett Favre heroically led the Packers to the Super Bowl victory. I watched, in awe, as the Green Bay players hoisted up the Lombardi trophy. Man, sports were so cool.

Super Bowl XLVII will take place today and I can’t help but think about the different lens through which I now view sports. Sure, I was six years old in 1997 when the Packers won and, admittedly, I hardly fully grasped what an offsides penalty was or even how many points a field goal is worth. But nonetheless, the skill and talent of the players enamored me. I read the box scores and watched SportsCenter highlights all day long. I didn’t understand or care to understand the politics of sport. I was simply a sports fan.

football

But as I got older the naiveté of my youth was replaced by an awareness that the games themselves all too often took a backseat to the harsh realities of sport.

Sports have always had scandals. Of course there was the Black Sox throwing the World Series in 1919 or the O.J. Simpson affair that engulfed the media. But for the most part, when we look back on sports in the past, we think about the best teams, the best players and the games that made them great.

Think about the big stories affecting sports right now. Lance Armstrong’s admission of doping is only one example of my childhood heroes admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs. Then there’s the devastating reality of football head injuries in light of the recent CTE-related suicide of former All-Pro Junior Seau. We also have the bizarre and mind-boggling story of Manti Te’o and his imaginary girlfriend.

Major League baseball’s Hall of Fame voting took place a few weeks. But instead of discussing which of baseball’s former stars should be enshrined in Cooperstown, the conversation was centered on whether voters should elect players with a history of performance-enhancer use. For just the second time in two decades, the writers did not vote anyone in to the hall.

The National Hockey League lost the first few months of its season due to a lockout. Greedy players and even greedier owners bickered for months over money. While the lockout was finally resolved this month and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached, both sides ended up missing out on three months worth of revenue and the fans missed a calendar full of games.

Players getting suspended for ill-advised tweets or for criticizing officials has become an all too familiar theme in sports nowadays. The sports media have crawled their way into the personal lives of athletes and their relationship statuses or financial troubles are brought to light and not surprisingly catch the attention of sports fans more than any game can. Unfortunately, we very rarely find the lead story on SportsCenter to be about the actual games. Instead, we are forced to hear about another one of Tiger Woods’ girlfriends or how Allen Iverson is broke.

As we get ready to watch the Super Bowl, the media have taken ahold of the Ray Lewis story. Lewis, a perennial Pro Bowl player and one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history, will take the field for the final time on Sunday. After announcing his retirement prior to the start of the playoffs, he has been a part of the underdog Ravens run to the title game. While this story has been beaten into the ground by countless news outlets it is seldom not greeted with a remark about Lewis’ murder trial in 2000, where Lewis had the charges dismissed. To add insult to injury, another report has just surfaced that Lewis received banned substances to aid the recovery of his torn triceps he suffered earlier in the season.

Sports are meant to be an enjoyable pastime for fans. After a long day of work or school, watching a sporting event is a great way to just sit back and relax. It just seems that lately all we hear about is everything BUT the games. Maybe the announcers won’t talk about Ray Lewis’ troubles today. But they probably will. That’s why there’s a mute button, I suppose.

Don’t worry, I’ll unmute it for the commercials and Beyoncé.

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