This post isn’t about the football star who punched an opponent; it’s about sportsmanship in general, sports business as oxymoron, twitter, YouTube, millions of dollars, and the impact of the ultimate big brother.
The ultimate big brother in this story is a lot like George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother, but without the malice. He’s just as threatening. But he’s accidental. Twitter et al. We can’t stop it or change it, and I don’t think we even want to. But I’m just in awe of how much the events surrounding this particular punch in the face reflect the huge changes I’ve seen in sports, media, technology, and our whole world in my lifetime.
Last Thursday night, after a game had ended, a college football star punched another player in the face. He’d had an extremely bad night; his team was humiliated and he played badly. He’d been quoted all over the sports media criticizing the other team. And the player he punched had been taunting him. None of that gets him off the hook. His punch was ugly. It was violence, not sport. And sports losses happen a lot, even humiliating losses, without people punching each other. But this post is about him or his punch; it’s about the speed of the information, the distortion of sports morphed with money morphed with very young people being rich and famous. Let me explain.
I watched that game on television Thursday night. After it was over, I turned off the television and moved to my computer to check the world out.
To my shock, that game was all over twitter. The web was following behind, short of breath, but twitter was already all over it. The impact of the punch had risen in twitter to a number one position in buzz meters, and continued so fast – it outpaced even Michael Jackson for a while – that a twitter search couldn’t keep up. I’d search the term, pause maybe 10 seconds to look at results, and twitter search was already telling me I had another 150 tweets to view with a refresh.
Until then I didn’t know about the punch. Within a minute or two, though, I’d even seen it on video. Somebody posted it on YouTube (it’s off now, because of copyright issues with ESPN).
No way to be sure, but I wonder whether or not that kind of thing was happening a few years ago with very few people knowing about it. What if the television cameras would have been turned off when it happened and the sports photographers would have been on their way back to the office to process their photos. If I found out about it at all, it would have been on a slow-moving rumor mill days or weeks afterward. I might never know about it. Would that be a good thing? I’m not sure. Was it as likely to happen years ago? I doubt it. Not as easily. The mix of sport and money has become steadily more money and less sport. And the fame and wealth showered on the stars has been steadily growing.
But this is 2009. So millions of people knew about it.
As I write this, that football star is off the team. Until the punch he’d been a pro prospect with a pretty good chance to get a pro contract worth millions of dollars next summer. Today, he might still be able to get on a pro team anyhow, maybe, if he’s lucky, and works hard. And it won’t be for millions of dollars. His prospects are vastly reduced. And I’m not saying he got a bad deal or that we should all just look the wrong way. He’s not a victim. It was an ugly, violent punch in the face. But did his fortunes ever turn around quickly.
- Our culture has lost the idea of sportsmanship and replaced it with obsession on winning. At all levels of sport. I let my season tickets drop this year for a number of reasons, but one thing I won’t miss was the spectacle of a whole stadium booing the opposing team when they take the field. That happens everywhere these days, and every time I find myself in a crowd that boos the opposing team, I’m embarrassed. I don’t mind so much the booing of a specific play or a coach’s decision or a bad call by the referees, although that’s also bad sportsmanship; but booing the visiting team just for showing up? That’s plain ugly. What’s even worse is the fact that this behavior has polluted kid sports too, meaning that parents watching their subteen children can be every big as ugly as a stadium full or raging professional sports spectators. Or more so.
- Sports business is oxymoronic, but it’s everywhere. For the players its win to get onto the high school team and again to get onto the college team and then again to get onto the pro team and then again to get larger contracts. And then become a coach and win some more or get fired in disgrace. I’ve seen high school coaches make decisions that hurt their kids while motivated, as plain as day, mainly by wanting to win so they could get into college coaching, which would then lead them to pro coaching.
- Fame and wealth and celebrity are very powerful intoxicants that our society pumps into some very young people, with very bad results.
- The advance of media is unstoppable. I’m not complaining about twitter — I love twitter. But I am saying that the combination of Internet and media and our society’s obsession with celebrity has some tough side effects.
(Photo credits: the first is a still shot from the YouTube posting of Apple Computer’s famous 1984 Macintosh SuperBowl commercial. You can click the picture to go to the video. The second picture is an image by ene from shutterstock.com)