August 31, 2006

The "I" in "Team"

Team sports in our country have gone to hell in a handbasket. And I'm not talking about some nice Dorothy from Kansas, flowery and foofy picnic basket with fresh baked homemade cookies inside. If only our beloved sports were in that wonderful condition. Instead, team sports are carting off to hell in a frayed, sharp edged, stanky basket that holds nothing but the soiled remains of used syringes and the putrid stench of inflated egos. Blech!

It's a sad state of affairs.

Many a journalist and critic have spouted superfluously about their disbelief in the state of today's sports. Cheating has become so rampant and the lies so unimaginable, we barely blinked an eye as Tyler Hamilton, cycling's neo-Houdini, denied doping charges by telling us how he'd channelled the energy and genetic make-up of his miraculously vanished twin fetus. So when Floyd Landis stepped forward in his drug allegation brouhaha to claim that a bottle of scotch had altered the composition of his blood cells, we barely chuckled in astonishment as we flippantly turned the page to the Barry Bonds fiasco. C'mon Floyd... Tyler Hamilton has already trumped you with a vanishing twin fetus, you've gotta come up with something better than a bottle of alcohol! Jeez Louise... At the very least, how about a claim to having been gang-raped by Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin? Or, better yet, what about those EPO aliens that came down from outerspace, siphoned all your blood out of your eyeballs and refilled your veins with the miracle blood of their fearless leader.

All joking aside (for a second), Tyler and Floyd are just the tip of a very large iceberg in a very big drug problem in sports. We are living in what has become known as the "Steroid Era." In fact, steroid allegations are released so frequently, I heard the New York Times is already coming out with a weekly sports-gone-bad supplement. It's called "Dope."

The truth is, though, I don't think steroids are the problem. Steroids are just a mere byproduct of the state of sports in our world. Steroid use is a symptom, not the disease. The true problem with team sports in today's culture is that it is no longer about the team. Somewhere along the way, with all the money and the media, we forgot about the "team" in "team sports". I just double checked the dictionary and apparently there is still no "I" in "team." Then again, maybe it's written in invisible ink cause somewhere along the way we definitely took a left into "selfish gain" when we should've taken a right into "team unity." And so here we are in a new age that I affectionately call the "Selfish Era".

Terrell Owens may very well be the poster-child of the Selfish Era, and he's not even accused of using steroids (Lord knows, NFL players don't use steroids at all. In fact, they're all celebate too.) Terrell, or T.O. as the rest of the world calls him, suffers from an acute case of Fat Richards Disease. In other words, he's a big dick. T.O. is a child who refuses to grow up. He acts so much like a 3 year old, even 3 year olds don't want to be associated with him anymore.

For the record, T.O. is a football player and football, as we know, is a team sport. However, like most toddlers, all T.O. cares about are four things: Me Me Me Me. I will freely admit that T.O. is a great football player; arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL. He has a lot going for him. Unfortunately, every one of T.O.'s actions - on and off the field - acts in detriment to the team mentality. As I said, he's a big dick.

T.O. doesn't follow direction, he doesn't respect his superiors, he doesn't abide by his word and when all is said and done, he doesn't care about anybody else but himself. He is a selfish ass and if he weren't such a goddam great football player, he'd be sitting at home cursing the world for being so unfair to him. Truth be told, if he keeps up his inane behavior, he may find himself there sooner than he thinks.

Unfortunately, T.O. isn't an anomaly in the sports world. To the contrary, the disease runs very very deep. Barry Bonds (baseball), Latrell Sprewell (basketball), Jose Conseco (baseball), Kobe Bryant (basketball), Ron Artest (basketball), Justin Gatlin (US Olympic Team, track)... and the list goes on and on. All of these guys play ON athletic teams, they just don't play FOR the teams - they play for themselves. Their goal is simple: to get more well known, more money and more fame, regardless of what they've to do to get there.

Steroids, my friend, aren't causing the selfish behavior. Selfishness breeds steroid use. By taking performance enhancing drugs, they are feeding their selfish machine - making them stronger so they can get more money and notoriety and then having to continue the steroids so they can live up to their hype. Very little of this has to do with helping their team succeed.

But wait, there's more. We haven't even talked about the irony yet. And there's always irony.

The irony of the Selfish Era is that individual sports like triathlon, snowboarding, golf and skateboarding, breed more unity than most major team activities. How many times, as a triathlete, have you encouraged - or been encouraged by - another competitor on the race course? Did you know that the pro triathletes at Kona come out to the finish line to cheer on the last of the Sub 17s? I challenge you to show me the selfish nature of that act.

Tiger Woods recently encouraged drug testing in pro golf. Some might shirk at that comment. In fact, I'm pretty positive that a lot of people laughed at it. Drug testing in golf?! they spat sarcastically at the SportsCenter crew. For godsakes, we know Tiger is not using them - and whatever other golfers are using, clearly it ain't working. No harm, no foul.

But let's try to keep our sarcastic comments to ourselves and not be over-critical of Tiger's intentions. The simple act of Tiger's encouraging drug testing in golf, was a tremendous example of unity and community. Essentially, Tiger is saying that if there are bad seeds in this bunch, let's all work together to get rid of them. We will not harbor criminals. We do not welcome cheaters (or, in some cases, women) on our greens. Golf, like triathlon, tennis and so many other sports, is an individual activity, but it is not a selfish sport. Perhaps other sports should look towards these activities as an example.

Don't get me wrong, I am vehemently against the use of performance enhancing drugs. Athletes must work together to put a halt on steroid use in sports. And by doing so, perhaps the unity will quell the rising tide of selfishness that has violated the very fabric of our national pastimes.

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