Athletes’ actions embarrass true fans

Back in the happy days, the term “sports fan” meant following your favorite team by going to games or catching the game on TV or radio.
Then free agency and increased drug usage came along in the ’70s. Sports fans had to work a little harder to follow their favorite players.
These new factors began to blow up in the ’80s. More money, more drugs, more crime.
Then everything exploded to the billionth degree in the ’90s.
But starting in the late part of ’99, the following events have occurred:
ù John Rocker.
ù Charlotte Hornets guard Bobby Phills died while racing his car with teammate David Wesley along a North Carolina freeway.
ù Rae Carruth is facing the death penalty following the murder of his girlfriend and pregnant child.
ù Ray Lewis was just released on $1 million dollar bond for a double murder in Atlanta.
ù Derrick Thomas died after rolling his car on an icy road. He was not wearing a seat belt.
There you have it, a glimpse at an exhaustive list of bonehead sports occurrences in 1999-2000.
Now to call yourself a real sports fan, you have to try and endure these all-too common headlines. No longer can someone be a fan just by watching a game. Maybe the light-hearted or bandwagoners, but not those who are fans at heart.
Now we have been forced to accept the off-field shenanigans. It has grown beyond tiresome to something of a natural occurrence.
“I think if you’re a true lover of sports, you’re going to love sports regardless,” said Terrance Simmons, Gophers point guard and self-proclaimed “true sports fan.”
“I think sometimes with Derrick Thomas and Bobby Phills that it should go out as a message to all players. Sometimes you get players coming into and out of college that are prima donnas.
“A lot of people think athletes are really violent these days,” Simmons added. “It’s not that. It’s just that you should know how to handle yourself.”
The problem is that today’s pro and major college athletes don’t know how to handle themselves. Most have been good enough runners, tacklers, hitters, shooters or goalies all their lives. Now in the age of huge money, fame and image comes invincibility.
These notions don’t begin and end with athletes.
“I’m not going to say it does or doesn’t. I think some players get it in their head that ‘I’m the leader and I have all this money and that’s not going to happen to me,'” Simmons said. “I’m not going to sit here and lie and say it’s fair to put athletes in the limelight. I can go out there and raise my voice and say something to somebody and that can end up in the newspaper, and somebody else could do that, and it wouldn’t be in tomorrow’s edition.”
Lewis, Carruth, Phills, Rocker, Thomas. Five examples of how being a sports fan now takes a never-ending and surreal toll on one’s perceptions and faith. We glorify athletes for what they do between the lines.
So much so, that we glorify what they do outside the lines.
But that can’t be an excuse for athletes. Just because they live in the spotlight doesn’t give them the right to treat fans like pawns. Bottom line: star athletes’ positions, however glorified by the media and public, is purely free-will.
It all has taken a severe toll on the average sports fan. Now fans are forced to be unwavering and numb toward athlete’s actions off the field.
This has translated to a growing apathy of the athletes’ supporters and no signs of reform from the athletes themselves.
“Athletes have to realize they’re in the limelight,” Simmons said. “Sports is such a big part of the American world. We have to realize that people are looking for us to mess up. Whether that’s right or wrong, that’s just the way it is.”

Mark Heller covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]