Wednesday, March 08, 2006

SI Lament: There are no more heros.

Is the sports hero dead? Sports Illustrated writer Phil Taylor apparently thinks so. Lamenting the fall from grace of San Francisco big bat Barry Bonds, Taylor said that the Bonds steroid scandal made him sad (poor, sad Phil Taylor!). Then Taylor put forth some provocative, questions to readers of his recent SI column. These questions were as tough as any question that a serious sports writer can ever ask:

"Giving our allegiance, our affection, to a sports star is a riskier proposition than ever," wrote Taylor. "Is there anyone safe to root for? Is there an athlete out there who won't make us eventually feel like a fool for holding him in high esteem?"

Taylor makes the failure of the sports hero appear to be some kind of recent phenom. His list of failed figures only went as far back as Pete Rose and OJ Simpson. Such short memories we have. In fact, sports hero's have been failing their worshippers for as long as they have been human, which is to say, they have always failed us. If we stretch our memories a little, we can recall the Black Sox scandal of 87 years ago. Think a little harder and you can go back thousands of years and recall how Goliath let down the Philistine's by failing to defeat a boy with a rock.

Taylor is right in his conclusion: living vicariously through the achievements of our sports hereos is a risky proposition.

But then he asks, "is there anyone safe to root for?"

To that question I can only answer, go down to your local homeless shelter and root for the people who show up there each day to make a difference. Go to your kid's school and root for his teacher and principal. Go out to this website and root for our troops in Iraq. Go out to and root for this organization to continue building on the legacy of Chris and Dana Reeve.

The secret is, Mr. Taylor, to root for something that matters. I hate to break it to you, and it may take you awhile to comprehend what I am about to say.

Professional sports doesn't matter.

Read it over and over again if it didn't make sense the first time.

Don't get me wrong -- participating in sports offers plenty of good lessons in cooperation, teamwork, striving, personal best, and healthy active lifestyle.

But at the professional level, it should be seen only as entertainment. Sports figures will always fail us when they are elevated to level of gods, because they're not gods. They're just people with a little bit of talent, nice cars, good lawyers and a lot of money.

And it seems mighty hypocritical of you Mr. Taylor, as a representative of Sports Illustrated, to be lamenting the fall of the sports hero. After all, SI has had as pivotal a role in building up Barry Bonds and other hero's as any media outlet. Build 'em up, then tear them down, eh Mr. Taylor? SI will make a profit either way.

But if you must root, and you are serious about your hero-quest, then my constructive advice to you is to root for real people, who are doing real work, that really matters.

They're out there, and a kind word from you would really make their day.


Anonymous said...

Write on man!

TexSport Publications said...

I agree wholeheartedly. SI is there to sell magazines and will use any topic or view in order to sell their magazine.

Professional sports IS entertainment. Look what has happened to the Olympics. Professional athletes have ruined the Games.

I loved watching curling during the Winter Olympics. No hype and good competition, and you don’t see any of the athletes “juiced.”

Please visit my blog and leave any views and comments on the posts. We welcome all opinions no matter how ridiculous they are.

dusty said...

Phil Taylor is a sportswriter. Its his JOB to write about sports. I do not think for one second that he would have that job long if he wrote about homelessness or Katrina victims.

To blast him for his views regarding Barroid Bonds is ridiculous and simple-minded. Unless you know the man personally what gives you the right to assume he doesn't care about any of the other things you mention in your post?

To equate sports figures with Christopher Reeve is like comparing apples and oranges.Would you compare Jesus Christ with..oh lets say..Dick Cheney?

Tex is correct in stating the obvious..SI is there to sell magazines. ..SPORTS magazines. If you don't like sports don't read their magazine, very simple I think.

Mr. Taylor evidently has a short memory since he failed to go back to the ChiSox scandal. Kudos to you for bringing that up. Yes, sports figures have been screwing up since the beginning of time..Everyone falls from grace at some point in their lives..its called the human condition.

amba said...

Thanks much for the link to this. I put it at the end of my Bondsost, as well as sending it around to all the sports nuts in my family.

metin said...

Are we picking on Barry Bonds because performance enhancing drugs might have actually paid off. What about the countless athletes who use them to no avail. Maybe these steroild should have a disclaimer. Why should we care anyway . . .

John said...

Who has been holding Bonds out as some kind of uber-hero, anyway? Is he actually surprised by this? Come on. Bonds has always been a jerk.

This is typical self-righteousness from the sensationalizing sports media.

The Zoner said...

Dusty-- tell us how you really feel!

I think professional sports do matter. They can unite a city in a swell of civic pride. It's gives us a reason to talk to each other, and on a level that is not intimidating for either party.

But your point is certainly taken. Good stuff.

Lee said...

You make some good points.

My problem with SI, and many other so called "sports journalists" (as opposed to the average beat writer who simply follows a team or sport) is the self-importance.

What are the big societal implications of Bonds getting caught? Who cares?

Just tell us if the Giants can win their division if Bonds can't play. That is why we watch sports. Not for societal insight but for simple fun.

Wozzy Bear said...

I don't think it's self importance so much as it's niche writing. If you're not fired up about that particular issue in sports, or in sports in general, then why are you reading "Sports Illustrated" in the first place? If you want news that is of consequence to the real world, then pick up the "NY Times" or the "Washington Post," or turn on a news program.

The writer in a magazine like "SI" has to assume that his audience cares about sports as much as he/she does. Sports is the focus of the entire magazine.

At any rate, I really like the blog Scott. You write very well.

John Carlisle said...

I like your entry, Scott, and thanks for taking the time to read my sports blog and posting on it, as well.

Without getting too theoretical, I think you hit the nail on the head when you get at the fact that sports heroes are regular people--and like regular people, they are quite fallible. Granted, some of them are great people, and others are losers. To the sports fan who will never meet the athlete, though, it really doesn't matter. Like you said--entertainment.

I guess it goes back to Charles Barkley saying "I am not a role model." The debate surrounding that is still ongoing. Nice job.

TED VELVET said...

"say it ain't joe...say it ain't so." Spoken by a kid to a man playing a kids game. Only children should be gullible enough to believe in faultless heroes. You're right,the people who most deserve attention in our society rarely recieve it. The real problem is that our society is overly impressed with status. Half the time it doesn't even have anything to do with actual talent. Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, Brittney Spears ring a bell? Say what you want about Bonds, he's literally a major league scumbag, but with or without steriods the guy is a great athelete and deserves at least some credit for at least having a skill that not many of us possess. But when grown up people admire or worship someone they don't know, Bonds,OJ,Kobe,Giambi whovever; they almost deserve that feeling of betrayal for being so childish in the first place.

Don said...


This was a well written, thought out piece. I hope you liked my thoughts on the subject. I am so dissapointed, not only in Bonds, but Sosa, McGuire, Giambi, et all. It's trite to say, but baseball is a much different game than it was when we were kids. Baseball will have to absorb this blow like all the others. I'm confident it will, but I will look at it with suspicion for a long time to come.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I agree with Dusty. This is the opinion of a sports writer and to take him to task over his opinions is rediculious. I bring this to you, what about rooting for the Olympians. Granted there are some Olympians who are made into stars, ie Bodie Miller. But do you not get excited for these drug free (thanks to the wonderful testing laws of the IOC) athleate competes with every ounce of thier body to represent thier country. You though are correct, sports don't matter in the grand scheme of things, but they exists for everyones enjoyment, to rally behind thier team and enjoy thier highs and yes, fight thier lows. But when someone like Barry Bonds comes along and completly thumbs thier nose at the sport, the fans, and the law like he has done -- we'll it's disgraceful. Thanks for checking out my site.

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

To be fair, if the curlers were juiced you'd never notice a difference anyways...

geoffrobinson said...

I don't want to make crass generalizations, but here goes...

It seems like that sports writers jump at the opportunity to write about a non-sports angle (some moral failing, etc.).

I would assume they get tired of writing solely about sports, and that makes sense to me.

Wozzy Bear said...

Very solid point Geoff.....

Anonymous said...

stop talking about sports

Scott said...

Scott, thanks for your comment on this topic on my blog. I enjoyed this posting, and agreed on some of your points, but not all of them. I had planned on posting detailed comments but ended up writing a more expansive piece on my blog on about why sport matters. Checkitout here.

Scott said...

Thanks for the healthy discussion, everyone. I appreciate you reading the blog, and for caring enough to share your thoughts.


Doug said...

Interesting take on Bonds and the whole approach to sports heroes. I think professional sports are important and relevant and they have been for a long time.

They provide a welcome diversion for workers everywhere, blue-collar and white-collar, every game being an event to look forward to and keep up with.

I don't see it as 'living vicariously' through our athletes, but more about wanting to see people who are excellent at what they do be on a big stage and excel. Sports provide that air of unpredictability - that's what draws fans to it.

Fans' ire for Bonds and what he's allegedly done comes from his actions tainting the game and its records.