Columnist George Will, who has written a number of excellent books on baseball, once stated that, "Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence."
These days, it seems just the opposite.
It's really getting hard to distinguish the sports pages from local, national, or business news, or even the crime blotter of a newspaper.
Professional sports in America nowadays reflect not the best, but the worst, of an American society that obsessively feeds on narcissism and immoral behavior that in turn governs an instantaneous, 24-7 news cycle where CNN, ESPN, and ET have all become one and alike.
Even if you are not a sports fan, you can't but notice that lately our news is dominated by reports of doping, dishonesty and sex scandals, contentious labor negotiations, demands for public subsidies for new stadiums from rich owners and teams, and athletes and coaches committing immoral and criminal acts.
That's hardly excellence. Instead, it's unquestionably a manifestation of an evolving rudimentary ethical weakness that has depreciated all aspects of our American culture.
These questionable moral and ethical traits begin to develop early with a child's participation in sports.
It used to be that participating in sports at an early age was a learning experience in not only striving to be the best, but also training to compete, understanding how to be part of a team, and learning how to play by the rules. That's called building character around the concept of excellence.
Today, many of our kids, particularly those that do show superior aptitude in a sport, participate in overly structured programs and camps starting as toddlers and are pushed by obsessive parents and coaches who stress professional standards of winning at any cost with no consequence toward the debilitation of their own bodies or moral standing.
This pressured culture of sports egotism is then reinforced in frenzied high school and college sports programs driven by revenues and scholarships and by administrators and alumni more concerned about the ranking of their sports team rather than the quality of the institution's educational standing.
With no moral compass or concept of true sportsmanship, some of the few that go on to actually become professionals and find fame, or the overpaid ones that coach them, become the subject of headlines exposing them not for their greatness on the field, but as spoiled, pampered thugs, liars, and even criminals (or even perform in terrible prostate medication commercials like Joe Theismann).
Think about it. "Sporting" news lately has been consumed with the ad nauseam reporting and analysis of Lance Armstrong finally confessing to the overly glamorized media phenomenon Oprah that he doped his way to numerous bicycling championships; a slew of his fellow professional dopers actually being held accountable for their actions by baseball writers with their decision to admit any of them to the Hall of Fame; Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend hoax; an alleged cover up of a gang rape by high school football players in an football obsessed town in Ohio, a former Olympic running star Suzy Favor Hamilton working as a prostitute; and last but not least, continued reporting on the hallmark Penn State pedophile scandal with now the governor of Pennsylvania suing the NCAA to actually spend the $60 million in fines it assessed to address child abuse in his state.
Then there was also the news that showed the really ugly business side of American sports -- the prolonged, four month NHL lockout finally ended and that a shortened professional hockey season would begin this Saturday after greedy owners and players fought a dubious pitched battle over contract limits, revenue share, salary caps and salary floors.
More sports greed: The Miami Dolphins, with a team valuation of over $1 billion announced plans to upgrade their SunLife stadium at a cost of $400 million. The bad news: Team owner Stephen Ross, himself worth over $3 billion, was going to ask the state of Florida and local governments, after just paying $639 million for a new Miami Marlins baseball stadium, to chip in to pay for the costs of the renovation.
Isn't it enough already?
It's time for a conversation to begin about America's misplaced obsession and farcical reverence with crooked professional athletes, sports teams, and even the sports media and networks that profit too much from and exploit Americans to the point where our national moral fiber can be truly called into question.
Until we start talking about it, we will continue to be just dopey sports fans paying too much for too little real sporting news.
An edited version of this article appeared in Sun Sentinel on January 17, 2013
Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communication strategist who writes a weekly opinion column in the Sun Sentinel and Florida Voices. He blogs at Kurly's Kommentary and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org