It’s hard to be a sports fan these days.
The people who call themselves sports fans like to watch games, and they like to do so free and clear of guilt over issues of human rights, gender rights, drug addictions, alcohol abuse and inequitable finances. They just want to watch a game that ends in a final score, even if it is a tie (soccer fans are more mature than other sports fans, because they can appreciate a draw).
But today, the news in sports is often just terrible, and also distracting.
The National Football League can’t get out of its own way in the issue of player off-field behavior and the Ray Rice incident has proven to be the tipping point. But there has been so much improper activity going on among NFL players in the past few years that it’s hard for USA Today to keep its scorecard of incidents current. They also have trouble fitting it onto one page.
Baseball remains tainted by the performance-enhancing drug scandals, and has to face questions about PEDs every year when they announce Hall of Fame balloting. That question is never going to go away.
Racism among white owners of National Basketball Association teams which depend almost entirely on the performance of African-American players has turned the league on its head. Adding the Atlanta Hawks’ situation to the long-lasting issues that came up with Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers makes the problem seem systemic rather than isolated.
College football, which should be the purest national sports interest along with college basketball, is now dealing with concerns of influence-peddling in the new playoff system while trying to recreate conference branding among seemingly endless shifting of schools from one conference to another. Oh, yeah, and do we need to pay players more than just the cost of a scholarship?
So, in order to try to push aside all the concerns that big-time American sports present, here are some positive things to look for when you open the sports pages of your newspaper or tab through your favorite sports website:
Major League Baseball – The MLB season goes on one month too long, but suggestions to pare the season down to 140 games will never be taken seriously. So let’s concentrate on what is happening in September baseball and what is happening is small market teams are still in the hunt. While Milwaukee has slipped away unfortunately, Kansas City and Pittsburgh are still playing meaningful games. The Royals haven’t been in the playoffs in 20 years and the Pirates have not won a playoff series in 35 years. Let’s root for them. And while we are at it, let’s take pleasure in the current demise of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
College Football – As a lifelong Big Ten fan, the first two weeks of this season have been poor. Reinstating the post-season possibilities for Penn State seems like a mistake, but the Big Ten needs it. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy watching teams from the SEC and Pac-12 beat up on each other. Alabama and Oregon look like powerhouses now but getting through their conference schedules will be tough, and those games will be fun to watch. Unfortunately, Notre Dame looks like it wants to be considered for the title playoff, and that is going to complicate things. If you want, you have permission to root for any team playing against the Irish just to avoid that problem.
National Football League – If you want, you can take pleasure in the first week losses by New England, Chicago, Green Bay and New Orleans. If you want, you can get excited about first week wins for the New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. Or you can just jump on the soon-to-be-sold-out bandwagon of the Seattle Seahawks, which could become the first team in a decade to repeat as NFL champions (New England in ’04 and ’05). Or you can just root against the Seahawks and for whatever team is playing them.
Sports Illustrated – Unfortunately, SI has to cover the bad stuff as well as the good, but it still does a remarkable job of presenting the stories we want to read in a way they have done since its inception 50 years ago.
So there you have some nice things to pay attention to as the seasons change from summer to fall. Let’s hope nothing new comes up to take your mind off the final score, even if it is a tie.