Jock Talk: Sports needs a moral compass
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Santa's got it is easy: treats for boys and girls who have been nice, lumps of coal for those who have been naughty. Done. But what do you give the nuanced collective world of sports, historically a world of such inspiration and empowerment, but in the last year-plus a cesspool of disappointment. Took me awhile to come up with the perfect gift, but I've decided the present the world of sports could use the most this year is a moral compass.
Let's begin with football, that bloated pigskin of excess. American sport's biggest money-maker had multiple opportunities this year to become a powerful voice against racial injustice and domestic abuse, take immediate action to make players safer in games, and throw its considerable financial weight into the study and eradication of long-term severe head trauma.
Instead, its reaction to reports of domestic and violence abuse cases has been sluggish, sporadic, and inconsistent. It has been passive milquetoast as one player's silent and dignified protest against violent racial inequality and devolved into a weekly headline-grabbing Twitter battle over political garbage that has nothing to do with sports or seeking justice and instead deepens the already wide rifts within our country.
The player who started it all on bended knee? Colin Kaepernick is a proven, successful athlete who is easily good enough to start on at least half the teams. Yet he remains unemployed because no team owner has had the guts to sign him. Meanwhile the franchise in the nation's capital continues to display its racial insensitivity with a brand name that is offensive to Native Americans.
Also over the past year, we've become increasingly aware that the world of youth sports, which is meant to be a positive experience for the next generation, giving kids a healthy sense of self-empowerment to last a lifetime, all too often is quite the opposite. We have learned of coaches, trainers, administrators, and doctors who have used their positions of power and trust to lure, seduce, and assault boys and girls given to their care. We have learned that in many cases these villains have been known or suspected by their colleagues to be abusing athletes but those enablers have not spoken out or acted to stop the abuse.
Yet as these cases have finally and slowly crept into news stories, institutional reaction at all levels has been frustratingly and tragically lethargic.
At next year's World Cup, we watch as the best male soccer players from across the globe celebrate dramatic goals and victories en route to the finals with spontaneous manly hugs and kisses of sheer joy. But gay and lesbian fans are being warned by the sanctioning body's anti-discrimination advisers that they should not do anything remotely similar at any time while in the host country of Russia. It's one more reminder that in one of the most corrupt voting sessions in soccer's history, the good ole boys decided to hold the 2018 and 2022 championships in countries with little soccer culture but longstanding and active hostility toward LGBT individuals - even if they love soccer.
Even sled dog racing is not immune to scandal. This year organizers of Alaska's Iditarod, a 1,000-mile sled dog race across the frozen state to Nome, reported a performance enhancing substance was found in four dogs raced by second-place finisher Dallas Seavey. Seavey has denied the allegations and said next year instead he will race his dogs in Norway's Finnmarkslopet 745-mile race, but sheesh - dog racing?
Perhaps the Olympics offer a glimmer of moral hope. Russia has been banned from next year's Winter Olympic Games in South Korea because of past institutionalized doping that has tainted the entire Russian sports world. Individual athletes can petition to compete under a neutral banner if they are able to show they are not cheats. So a quiet yeah for the International Olympic Committee, after showing such a tepid reaction to basically the same scandal two years ago heading into the Summer Olympics.
That institutional label, by the way, means that the doping was done with the knowledge and supervision of Russian administrators and officials. So you'd think that would pretty much make them gone from the world sports scene, right?
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko is banned from involvement in all future Olympics because of his role in the doping scandal - but he is the person organizing that World Cup next year where you have to be careful kissing or hugging.
Hand me that wrapping paper and the moral compass. Sports needs to grow a spine and a conscience and it needs to grow them now. Stop accepting your sins of the past.
As pappy used to tell me, do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. Period.
Otherwise, it's humbug to you.