Saturday, October 6, 2007

"Play the Right Way"

We live in a world where sports is a metaphor for everything in life. Newspapers seek dazzling quotes from athletes and turn them into nuggets of wisdom. Corporations provide thousands of dollars to coaches to speak at their annual sales meetings, extolling the virtues of teamwork and dedication.

As much as I see through the hypocrisy of today's sports, a big part of me wants to be excited about it. For every interview with a surly Barry Bonds, I'm reinvigorated by the friendliness of Greg Oden. When Larry Brown tells the media in 2004 how much he enjoyed coaching the NBA champion Detroit Pistons because they "play the right way", I'm overcome with giddiness.

Why? Probably on the most basic level I want to see others do well. I want people have success doing what they love and maximizing their talents to the best of their ability. Sports offers a way for this to happen which doesn't exist in many other avenues in life. There are very tangible results--a champion is crowned, individual statistics are tabulated, and many inspirational stories are written of athletes overcoming physical adversity to once again prosper.

As much as I'd like to celebrate the things that are good in sports, today is not one of those days. Instead, it's another sad day due to an admission of guilt by Marion Jones. The track-and-field athlete who was a media darling during the 2000 Sydney Olympics admitted to using performance enhancing drugs and lying to federal investigators.

So Victor Conte of BALCO, who always seems to come across as a rather snarky fellow, was once again telling the truth. Despite the charismatic smile, boundless energy and enthusiasm, and continually denouncing the use of steroids, Marion Jones was caught in quite a mess. However, given she had previously been partners with two track-and-field athletes (CJ Hunter and Tim Montgomery) who had ties with BALCO, should we at all be surprised by this result?

The issues of sport seem to be never-ending ... Dennis Franchione writes a private e-mail newsletter to boosters for $1,200 annually, Nick Saban tosses his integrity and character out the window by joining Alabama, even Larry Brown who uttered the "play the right way" phrase listens to overtures from the Cleveland Cavaliers during the season, then joins the New York Knicks only to have it crumble after one year. How can we expect much of athletes when the people leading them do no better?

Now, I don't expect for people to be saints. Heck, I don't even expect athletes to be role models. That is ultimately the responsibility of parents. However when I see these types of actions in the sports world, it makes me wonder if people are focused on the right things in life.

I really believe everyone should use their talents to achieve the highest level of success possible, where success is a combination of personal, professional, financial and spiritual fulfillment. To me, this starts and ends with something for which someone has passion--in the case of these athletes, sports. If you truly love what you do for a living and have passion for it, and are well compensated for doing it, shouldn't it be enough? Why are people willing to jeopardize everything to gain one more small inch?

I'd like to call on people to pursue their life's dreams and aspirations, but do so with integrity and character. You'll feel better about yourself if you do, and be taking a large step toward making the world a better place.

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