By NICK NELSON
What exactly happened to the days when athletes were role models? When, and more importantly, why did parents have to start being concerned when the items topping their children’s Christmas lists were Plaxico Burress, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco jerseys?
Plaxico Burress’ arrival at Riker’s Island on Tuesday really signaled a lot of mixed feelings in the sports world. Here is a guy who was the hero of the Super Bowl two seasons ago, as the New York Giants had slain Goliath by defeating the New England Patriots. A season later, he is in the emergency room of a NYC hospital with a gunshot wound to his left thigh, that was later found to be self-induced, done with an illegal, unlicensed firearm. New York City mayor Bloomberg, in trying to set an example, demanded that Burress serve prison time.
Michael Crabtree, unanimously known as the best rookie wide receiver in the game, has refused to give himself a chance to prove himself and is still holding out for dozens of millions of dollars from the team that drafted him, the San Francisco 49ers. With a coach like Mike Singletary, notorious for both his ferocious play on the field and his no-nonsense discipline as a coach, many find it hard to believe that the team isn’t just cutting their ties with the kid completely.
Brett Favre joined in the act again this offseason, turning his career plans into a circus-like show, waiting until the first week of the preseason to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, a signing seen by many as a slap in the face after nearly an entire career playing for the rival Green Bay Packers. Many football fans may remember his tearful “retirement” from the Packers in the spring of 2008 followed by his return to the league with the New York Jets a mere five months later.
It stretches even into basketball, with Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas giving an interview a couple weeks ago saying that it was the fault of his team, both the players and the coaches, that he did not heal and perform in the way that he should have last season and hopes that his teammates are hungrier this season. When your last full season took place in 2002 and you only suited up for 15 in the last two, you might want to choose your words a bit more carefully.
What is most frustrating about the recent trend of me-first superstars is how there were so many franchise players who consciously avoided the negative publicity when playing in the past.
Former Chicago Cubs Hall-of-Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg was notorious for being a family man, going home to his wife and kids after games instead of the clubs or bars, eventually retiring because of his increasing frustration with how players cared less about the game and more about what was going on afterwards.
Legendary Pittsburgh outfielder Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on his way to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua, and former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman fought and was killed serving his country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, turning down a $3.6 million contract all because it seemed like the right thing to do.
So when did the recent trend of negative, selfish attitudes start? It’s impossible to say, as of course, there were good and bad apples long before this recent trend, and will continue long after.
However, everyone has their theories: Alex Rodriguez being awarded $252 million over ten years when he signed with the Texas Rangers in 2001, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis drafting and signing big names instead of team players, along with more and more players being recruited at younger and younger ages.
The only thing everyone seems to be able to agree on is that the attitudes, along with the ever-increasing ticket prices are killing the fan experience at professional sporting events. According to a FOX Sports report, average NFL ticket prices rose to $75 (a 4 percent hike), with the Dallas Cowboys averaging $160 per seat. As fans, we need to speak out. Sit in the cheap seats, avoid buying the jerseys of me-first players, and maybe even stop attending professional sporting events altogether. Once the owners realize their superstars are being ignored, maybe they will finally realize that it’s for a reason.