Our sports culture must change

By Paul Moomjean 02/07/2013

I’ve coached wrestling for many years. I coached at the elementary, junior high, high school and college levels, even being part of the last Moorpark College wrestling coaching staff before the program was cut. Growing up, I participated in football, soccer, basketball and baseball. Sports have been an influential and important part of my life for as long as I can remember. So with a heavy heart, I write to you, dear Ventura County readers, that maybe it’s time we look at our sports culture around the world and ask the question, “What in the world is wrong with us?”

Over the past few weeks, the press has been writing about numerous athletes making blunders, saying atrocities, doping, cheating, etc. If it isn’t Lance Armstrong admitting to Oprah that he used steroids, it’s San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver’s anti-gay remarks. Two things must happen. One, the higher-ups in each individual sport must gain control of their participants, and we as a culture must stop turning these men and women into modern-day gods.

When Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah, “I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times,” concerning his doping while winning the Tour de France numerous times, he was essentially speaking for every generation. “My generation was no different than any other. The ‘help’ has evolved over the years but the fact remains that our sport is damn hard, the Tour [de France] was invented as a ‘stunt,’ and very tough mother[expletives] have competed for a century and all looked for advantages. From hopping on trains a hundred years ago to EPO now, no generation was exempt or ‘clean.’ ”

While I do not condone his actions, Armstrong admits what many do not understand, which is that the professional sports world is beyond competitive now, and our desire to showcase every event to its extreme has placed an even greater pressure upon athletes to compete at levels beyond physical limitations.

Baseball has had to deal with numerous steroid scandals, and my teenage heroes Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire have become punch lines for an ever fickle press.

The 24-hour sports news cycle has put these men front and center to perform, and then thrown microphones in their faces and watched the carnage rise. In football, recently, Manti Te’o’s “catfish” tale has ruined the life of a young man who didn’t deserve to have a hoax like that play out in front of the world. Yet when the media found out Te’o’s “girlfriend” was just a fake Facebook page created by an irresponsible jerk who claimed to be “in love” with Te’o, instead of backing off, the media gobbled up all the messy details, not remembering this is just a 21-year-old amateur athlete who doesn’t deserve to have his personal life front and center for the wolves to devour.

Meanwhile, the 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver has officially thrown his hat into the ring for most offensive comment of the year. While chatting with shock jock Artie Lange, Culliver said, “I don’t do the gay guys man. … I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do. … Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room, man. Nah.”

These offensive comments hurt football, the 49ers and the gay community. Young gay men playing football today in youth sports will hear these comments and become discouraged and potentially afraid. The NFL is a business. It must start acting like one and educate its players about what is good and what is not good for the image of football.

While much of the responsibility must be put on the different commissioners and owners to monitor themselves and their sport, the real way to fix this madness is for our media to back off the tabloid cycle. These are just sports figures, mind you, and not elected officials.

Another place is in the home. Have you seen a youth football game lately? Dads screaming. Moms swearing. And those are just for the little kids.

We can do better. And to save our sports, we must do better. 

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