As the mother of two boys, I have learned to appreciate the joys of sports. Although I was a sports-oriented girl growing up, I had no idea the extent to which boys are obsessed all year round with games, statistics and other sports trivia. I have learned about fantasy teams, drafts, free agency and the Final Four (including brackets!) I have been to the Basketball Hall of Fame and to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have watched my kids play hours of little league baseball, basketball and soccer. But nothing prepared me to try and "run interference" for the street education that my kids are receiving while watching ESPN.
Thanks to ESPN, my kids have learned the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony at an early age. Upon command, they can rattle off at least 20 sports players, their convictions and sentences. They know about concealed weapons, accidental shootings, etc. I just searched "weapons charge" on ESPN.com and received 1691 hits. Some names associated with weapons charges include Gilbert Arenas (basketball) , Plaxico Buress (football), and the infamous Jayson Williams (basketball -- in jail for fatally shooting his limo driver while "playing" with a gun.) Michael Vick is in a category of his own, after being charged and convicted for dog fighting conspiracy, and currently sits in prison. Who knew dog fighting still existed? And now, we know the "ins" and "outs." My kids sat mesmerized by ESPN and its detailed reporting. They learned about how the dogs are trained, bets are made, fights are set up, etc.
Moving onto drugs, my kids know differences between prescription medications, illegal drugs and of course, anabolic steroids -- i.e. performance enhancing drugs (sounds so alluring.) My older son had to take Prednisone for a medical condition and bragged around school that he was "on steroids." The list here includes such names like Mark McGwire (baseball), Andre Agassi (tennis--crystal meth) Floyd Landis (cycling), and my favorite, Richard Gasquet, a French tennis player who told the Court of Arbitration for Sport that he failed a drug test because he kissed a woman in a nightclub who contaminated him with cocaine! Just last week, we had Chris Simms (football player and son of Giants star Phil Simms) arrested for smoking marijuana while driving his pregnant wife. Simms says that the case against him is "weak," suggesting that two other unidentified passengers in the car's back seat "might be the sources of the odor" of marijuana that police reported.
I will stop this rant and address the obvious question of whether or not all this is simply the reporting of the "sports news." Someone will need to convince me that all of this crap is indeed the sports news. It is sensationally sad personal news about players who are in professional sports and cannot deal with their own success, but I think it is not sports news. As a mother, you expect that when your kids are watching a sports channel that it will not be rated "R or X." Furthermore, it is a channel which is viewed by a large demographic of impressionable pre-teen and teenagers. Where is the accountability?
ESPN-Sex could be a full weekly show with a variety of topical guests hosts. There is extra-marital sex, underage sex and sex addiction, among other topics. Kobe Bryant was a noteworthy trendsetter. And, being the hero which he is, he was able to reconcile with his wife by giving her a huge diamond ring. Way to go, Kobe! Alex Rodriguez (baseball's A-Rod, ironically) and Madonna grabbed headlines last year. They looked like a nice couple although A-Rod was married with two children at the time. Recently, my kids eagerly followed the plight of Lawrence Taylor (football) who is accused of paying a 16-year-old girl to have sex with him (he is 51 years old). Not LT, too? Eddy Curry (basketball) was, according to court papers, repeatedly approaching his chauffeur David Kuchinsky "in the nude," allegedly telling him, "Look at me, Dave, look" and "Come and touch it, Dave." Curry is a married father of two. This is no surprise as he was playing for Isiah Thomas (Knicks head coach) at the time. Thomas, as you may recall, had his own stunning sexual harrassment case involving Anucha Brown Sanders. This is titillating stuff!
Now, I am far from a provincial thinker, live in the metropolitan NYC area and intellectually understand that many of these players lack the emotional maturity to deal with fame and success, its demands and access. However, there seems to be a pervasive inability across all sports to deal with this all too-common problem, and it needs to be addressed. This immaturity manifests itself in these limit-testing behaviors. Even an armchair psychologist such as myself can see this. Why not the owners of professional sports teams? Perhaps "professional sports" bears some responsibility in requiring teams to address, train and support newly signed players. Simply contractually limiting them or assuming that "the law" will be upheld are simply not sufficient.
And back to ESPN, where is its responsibility as a mass market broadcaster to decide what is "sports news?" Perhaps there could be an ESPN-G where kids could sit all day long and parents would not worry that their children were becoming more street-smart than is necessary.
And, last of all, I am a marketing person. If large corporate sponsors whose advertising dollars on which ESPN relies took a stand on content, it would certainly gain notice. If these corporate advertisers and their agencies who direct/control the money said that content was an issue, the buck would stop there. And, the sponsors themselves could/should educate and support their endorsees throughout the signing process. It is the sudden onslaught of large sums of money which create most of these personal problems for athletes. They simply are ill-prepared to deal with success.
And, the best/worst for last: Tiger Woods -- stayed tuned to ESPN for continuing updates.
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