Olympic Caliber

This being an Olympic year so many really don’t know the full extent of what goes into making an Olympic athlete. The physical and mental progression from one level to another as well as the financial expenditures to complete the journey from a youthful hopeful up the ranks until they are recognized as an elite caliber athlete is a life long pursuit. For too many the journey ends way to early. For others the financial strain is too great to overcome. Then there are still others whose physical attributes makes it impossible to reach the pinnacle of athletic success.

For elite and professional athletes reaching that level of excellence in your given sport comes at a price. When we look at the price one pays for the cost of athletics today we come away with a staggering realization of how much money is really involved. When we compare the costs involved with the cost of just 50 years ago is just another indication of how our society has become so consumed with wealth. Just look at what the New York Yankees did with signing a baseball player to an unprecedented multi million dollar contract this past year. To top it off if that athlete gets injured and can’t play they still are obligated to pay his full salary. This was unheard of back 60 years ago.

We should all remember that 60 years ago many a youngster played little league baseball and Pop Warner football. Myself I can remember every Saturday playing baseball rain or shine. I had a four finger leather baseball glove my father bought and I think that was the only expense we paid for me to play ball. When I got into high school there were no additional fees my parents had to pay in order for me to compete in interscholastic sports whether it was cross-country, swimming, or track. Our school uniforms, warm ups, and transportation to and from away meets was all covered by the school district. Just think that 60 years ago there were no real financial handicaps that blocked our parents from having one participate in interscholastic sports. Today, that is not the case. With school budget cuts in the forefront of debate in school districts all across the country so many athletic programs have been eliminated or the fees to participate are alarming. When the costs to partake in interscholastic sports increases so many hopefuls are denied the opportunity to do so just because many parents don’t have the extra financial means to have their children involved in after school activities.

Going back to my collegiate years how fortunate I was to be able to participate in intercollegiate sports though a partial sport scholarship that paid for the expenses incurred. We would should remember that tuition’s at state school universities were relatively low compared to today. All in all the cost to pursue an athletic career was by far less expensive than it is today. So much so in fact that athletes today spend more on high tech gadgetry to record and even enhance ones performance. I can fondly remember all we had during cross-country and track season were stop watches.

When money is involved today a gradual disintegration of conduct has occurred. It was during the course of my long athletic and professional career that I witnessed a decline of personal and professional behavior among many a professional athlete. The professionalism and comradely of the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s have given way to a self absorption, self serving, self gratifying, and self profiteering ideology where the individual is all consumed with monetary compensation and selflessness without the slightest regard for their fellow teammates, competitors, and the fans. Lost is the sense of fellowship that was once a prime motivation for being an athlete.

What has replaced playing for the “Love of the game” to now where players of all professional sports and a majority of collegiate sports as well have adopted the self serving philosophy. When and where they play for the excessive amounts of money that are being offered to them the professionalism, the respect for each player, fans and the general public has diminished so greatly that the players now expect the adoration, the attention, and the publicity to be bestowed upon them. This is not because of their ability, their respect for players, coaches and fans alike, but because of the amount of money they are being paid. Whether or not they actually produce the professionalism that must be displayed when individuals achieve that level of athletics is more often now not displayed.

I remember when I first competed in an athletic event. The excitement, the exhilaration, and the respect I had for myself, my coaches and the other competitors made me realize that just to be able to compete was an unbelievable experience. Whether I won or came in last wasn’t the main focus. My coaches realized that winning wasn’t the most important thing but just being able to strive to do the best that you can do is what competing is all about. Sure, everyone likes to win, but even if you lost or came in second as long as you tried you succeeded, and that is winning.

Today, an awful lot of High School and Collegiate athletes are lured by the prospect of lucrative professional sports contracts. Many have succumbed to the temptation to forgo a collegiate career or stop short of graduation and opt for the professional contract only to realize that once their career is over or an injury prevents them from competing they are left with very little qualifications to embark upon a career outside of sports.

Most of these individuals are not mentally, emotionally, and educationally able to comprehend the scope of the responsibilities that are involved in professional sports contracts. What has occurred today in professional sports is that they have really encouraged a type of behavior that is most unprofessional by the athletes themselves. I am not saying all professional sports athletes have fallen into this type of behavior but the media has continually exploited some individuals to where the general public actually further encourages student and professional athletes toward behavior that is most unprofessional.

“For the love of the game or sport! A time not so distant. The days when players and athletes actually played and competed because of the enjoyment of the sport itself and not because of how much money they are or will be paid. In the professional sports world winning is the ultimate goal. The key here is to recruit the caliber of players that when they actually play or compete a highest degree of excellence is displayed. To always do the best they can will produce the winning affect that is so important in today’s professional sports.

Aspiring young athletes today have to be taught restraint and to resist the temptation of forgoing an education in pursuit of that lucrative contract that seems like a sure bet when in actuality is a short sighted and misguided attempt to interrupt an individuals life process. What really matters are students and student athletes when they participate in their respective sports are held accountable for his or her behavior on and off the playing field. They must show a level of personal esteem and portray courtesy, respect, and a genuine fellowship toward everyone.

Can it be any wonder considering so many schools continually underfund physical education and so many other cultural rewarding activities in elementary and secondary school systems that today’s students and young aspiring athletes find it so difficult to have the same availability of programs that were considered an eternal part of an educational experience just 60 years ago? Until schools across the country realize the importance of athletics and the arts in ones educational experience and find ways that prevent handicapping families and individuals from participating just because these programs are too cost prohibitive many a promising athlete, musician or stage performer will be denied the opportunities to reach their fullest potential. The net result is one of the reasons why our society has drifted away from the moral values of a time not so distant. A very sad commentary for today.

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