SBJ/March 4-10, 2013/Opinion

Sports not immune to life’s obstacles

On Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, the NFL decided to play a full slate of games only two days after President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas. As the shocked country was dealing with questions it couldn’t answer, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stated: “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy.”

This decision has been the subject of debate every time there is a national tragedy and sport is put in perspective to play games or not.

The past few months have seen us edge perilously close to the fiscal cliff, and witness NFL player tragedies in Kansas City and Dallas. The inexplicable violence in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; and too many other communities has stopped us in our tracks and forced a national re-examination of what places are considered safe havens in our daily lives. Sports has often been cited as a salve for our fears, emotional pain, loss, angst and even a cleaning agent for the fog of war. Games often seem to be an acceptable security blanket when we don’t know where to turn for solace as a larger community.

Will there ever be a set of circumstances that takes sports away from us for an extended period of time? Can there ever be a “depression” in sports similar to what has occurred in other realms of our life? Though it may be morbid to consider, the threats to sports as we know it are very real:

ILLNESS: Influenza, SARS or some other form of contagion could force government regulations on the size of public gatherings. Sooner or later the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will run into a flu that it can’t control.

ERRATIC ECONOMY: The Great Depression of 1929-33 and the Great Recession of 2007-09 caused havoc with disposable income, the lifeblood of sports. We live in a time of increasing uncertainty where even the most brilliant economists don’t have a game plan for what our future will look like. That’s not good news for sports.

SOCIABILITY: Breakdowns in common human decency in our society and our sports venues are celebrated and, in many cases, even rewarded with a reality show, Twitter bomb and the in-your-face YouTube video. We used to subscribe to the mantra, “It is what you do when nobody is looking that reveals character.” Now it’s, “Let’s see what ridiculously brainless thing we can do that can get us a shot at our 15 minutes of fame, shame or blame.”

TERRORISM: The NFL is the only major North American sports league that requires all fans to pass through metal detectors at all of its games. At many other sporting events, a stern warning from security, a pat here, and a wand there isn’t going to stop someone bent on violence.

CONCUSSIONS: There are more than 2,000 NFL retired players pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the league. The language from the retired players’ lawsuit lays out a challenge that the NFL is taking very seriously: “The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL players population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result.”

With $28 billion worth of guaranteed media contracts, the NFL, TV network partners, team owners and sponsors will be following this case with nervous understanding of what the financial implications of a players’ victory could mean.

THE WORLD OF HYPERMEDIA: Millions of fans spend more time at games looking at their iPhones, Android communicators and HD mega-video boards, with little interaction with fans sitting right next to them.

WAR ON OUR HOME TURF: The unthinkable. Let’s skip this one.

NATURAL DISASTERS: It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. Hurricanes, tornadoes and hundred-year floods seem to becoming more prevalent as the rumor of global warming becomes more of a reality. On Oct. 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake interrupted Game 3 of the Bay Bridge World Series, causing a 10-day interruption until the region was ready to play ball.

I’m not attempting to channel Nostradamus, but it is important to remember that the world of sports is not impervious to the stark reality that is playing out in our everyday lives.

Andy Dolich (andy.dolich@gmail.com) has held executive positions at the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers and at the NASL’s Washington Diplomats during his 40-year career in sports.

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