March 17, 2012 10:19:40 PM
The news is seldom good.
In Afghanistan, an American soldier slaughtered 16 civilians for no discernible reason. That carnage included nine children. In Ohio, a 17-year-old boy went on a shooting rampage, in which he killed three of his fellow students and injured others. The victims were chosen at random. His motive remains unclear.
This country really needs some heroes. I suppose that's why Americans heap such worship and adulation on athletes. We give them the adoration of gods, or at the very least, saints. One team is even named The Saints, a lofty designation to live up to. It is, perhaps, a categorization too exalted for mortal men to achieve.
Now we learn that members of The Saints were rewarded for injuring players on other teams. Bonuses ranged from $1,000 to $1,500, based on the severity of the damage. Professional athletes are paid millions for playing football and other games. Those incentive amounts must seem like a pittance to them. We can only conclude that there was pleasure in this blood sport.
This had been devastating news in my household. My husband, Chris, was a die-hard Saints fan. He had game-watching rituals that included a dinner of Popeye's fried chicken (like The Saints, a New Orleans original), and a lot of yelling at the television. But, no more. Now, Chris' loyalty is shattered.
I wonder if the Saints' fiasco will serve as a cautionary tale for those who train the fledgling players on our high school (and younger) teams? This is an opportunity for coaches in the Golden Triangle area to give guidance on sportsmanship, not only on winning at all costs.
It seems unlikely that coaching will be anything but business as usual, here or anywhere else. The possible rewards are too great. Everyone who makes it to professional status will become a millionaire. Intelligence and education mean nothing.
Young kids aspire to acquire high-end bling. From multiple sports cars to multiple Rolexes, gold is the goal. Perhaps the hazard of suffering an occasional crippling, or even an accidental death, is not a bad trade-off for riches beyond imagination. Life is a gamble.
I wonder if it is too late to rethink the value that we put on a career choice? It seems odd to me that teachers barely make enough to rank them in the middle class. Firefighters and police risk their lives for strangers. Like athletes, an ordinary day at work is another roll of the dice. When "work" can mean 40 to 60 hours a week in a dangerous arena, the odds for injury increase dramatically.
I know that we will never pay the people who teach our children, or keep our streets safe, or rush into burning buildings, the royal ransom that athletes receive. Yes, I understand that landing at the bottom of a gang-tackle might result in some broken bones and lost teeth. However, it is unlikely that the opposing team brings guns onto the playing field, or that their uniforms might ignite into a furnace of flames.
I just wish that we could place some of our admiration, and financial rewards, on those who deserve it. Perhaps, then, we might have authentic idols, genuine heroes. Because, like the Saints, fallen angels have an (almost) impossible time dusting off their dirty wings.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.
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