Let athletes be athletes, not role models

People are cautiously optimistic about the possibilities this coming year offers for the country. 2008 will be a year when the wrongs of the past can be righted, when those individuals who made the wrong choices can finally be punished and when, finally, the nation can be freed of its most persistent specters. 2008 will be the year when America moves past the “great unethical sports era” that has proven so troublesome in the recent past.

Everyone agrees that steroids are bad. They harm the integrity of the athletes and destroy the purity of the sports. Our children’s heroes are proving that success comes first to those who cheat. The very social fabric of the nation is being rent asunder by Barry Bonds and every athlete who decided their best just wasn’t good enough.

Oh, but isn’t the sports-aware populace now cued to the importance of life off the field? Even a star with no major on-field violations can contribute to this increasing moral morass that so many find troubling if they, say, get caught with their hands in an illegal dog-fighting operation. Professional sports leagues are moving ever deeper into the moral toilet, and four out of five pundits agree: This is bad.

From what inner well of emotion and pity does this deep concern about professional sports ethics come? It has always been my understanding that professional athletes are nothing more than actors who have cultivated different physical talents. On a professional level, sports exist for one reason: entertainment. They no longer exist to instruct their viewers on the finer points of ethics any more than pickup basketball games bear any resemblance whatsoever to the NBA. A professional athlete is an entertainer and, as such, has a perfect right to do or take whatever they need to increase the entertainment value of their sport. Having a miniature Woodstock each year does nothing to increase the sporting integrity of the Super Bowl, but it does help bring up the entertainment quotient.

There is no reason athletes should be held to different legal standards than “normal” citizens. If a professional sports star breaks a law and the authorities manage to figure out what they were involved in, then punishments are warranted. Why is it, though, that an epidemic of unethical behavior among professional athletes is worse than something similar happening among the actors in Hollywood? What makes them different than actors or musicians? Their profession exists for the entertainment of the masses, and if the entertainers happen to be unethical. so what? Unless their behavior interferes with their ability to enthrall their “fans,” what does it matter?

Let them cheat as much as they want so long as it makes things more entertaining for the fan. Go ahead and give coverage to their various public missteps and screw-ups; doesn’t an entire industry exist to feed the public’s hunger for the private lives of the stars? Maybe this can be the year professional athletic leagues recognize what they are: ventures that exist solely for entertainment. It’s time to drop the pretense that professional athletes are moral role models.

Andrew Hamner is a freshman. He may be contacted at a.hamner@umiami.edu.