American sports stars should play for passion not profit

Joseph DeClerq discusses how American athletes are able to pull in insane salaries simply because they provide public entertainment.

Joseph DeClercq, Writer

The 2011-2012 NBA season should have started already, but it hasn’t because the players and owners can’t agree on a way to split nearly $4 billion and keep both sides happy. This is just one example of the ridiculousness of American professional sports.

The New York Yankees’ payroll checked in at $196 million in 2011 and Tiger Woods made $62 million — making him the highest paid athlete in a year that was considered one of his worst. The NFL nearly didn’t have a season because of a money-centered dispute and the NBA has already cancelled the entire preseason and the first several weeks of the regular season thanks to collective bargaining disputes and players not willing to let a salary cap take place.

Keeping the public entertained

Gar Ryness makes his living by imitating the batting stances of MLB players. No, this is not made up. Ryness started out as a spiritual advisor for entertainment professionals but now works for Fox Sports Net. This YouTube-sensation-turned-sports-celebrity has travelled around the nation performing for the athletes he imitates as well as the general public. This guy is talented, I’ve seen him perform, but how can this be someone’s profession?

If all of this is true — the American sports world is crazy — then what keeps fans coming back? If the Chicago Cubs haven’t won the World Series in over 100 years then why are the fans so loyal in the north side of Chicago? Because above all, sports is an entertainment business. And the athletes and people surrounding them have money lavished on them because they keep us happy.

However, this isn’t always a good thing. Professional athletes and sports personalities are some of the most irresponsible and immature humans. That’s mostly why Americans love them. Terrell Owens is a nut, and when he pulled a sharpie out of his sock and autographed a football in 2002 we all loved him and hated him simultaneously. It’s the end zone dances, the shootings, the chalk chucking and the bat flipping that gets fans both riled up and fed up with professional athletes.

Life beyond sports

Thankfully, there is a shinier side of the coin. Several athletes across all major sports platforms run their own charities and give back to the communities they came from. Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is taking his new-found time during NBA lockout to go back to school and earn a sociology degree from Davidson College. He’s not sitting back on his obnoxious laurels in a club blowing his cash or getting shot … ahem … Plaxico Burress. He will be one of just a few star athletes whose life will not come to a crashing halt after sports.

But for most professional athletes, the business of sports is no longer about wins and losses. Instead, it has become all about reality shows, swag, Twitter followers and, of course, money. Sports need to return to the framework that the American professional circuit was built upon, teamwork and passion. The same passion that led Hall of Fame first baseman Lou Gehrig to believe that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth even when faced with a terminal illness. For Gehrig, baseball was life. Not because he got paid, but because he loved the game he played and the fans he played for. The world needs more people like him, so athletes, take note.

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