I must give my colleagues, Sports Geek and Loyal Homer, credit. After two years of working together, debating all the biggest issues in sports, they managed to bring out yet another first in TSD history!
For the first time ever, I actually disagree with BOTH arguments (well, at least partly).
The question was to debate whether or not coaches and universities should look into juvenile records before deciding which recruits to extend scholarship offers to. Both Sports Geek and Loyal Homer, although arguing for very different causes, essentially raised the same point – that character matters in sports.
According to Sports Geek, character matters in the sense that it helps people to gain experience. To Sports Geek, growth and second chances for everyone, not just athletes, to make us all better people. Past mistakes do not always serve as an indicator for future actions, though, and so Sports Geek feels that they should not be held against the children (that, after all, is what they are) who commit them.
On the other hand, Loyal Homer argues that character matters, which is precisely why college sports need to clean up their act. Too much is forgiven in sports, and it is tarnishing the reputation of what is supposed to be honest and fair play among student athletes. Instead, we hear more and more about Player ‘X’ from university ‘Y’ and their escapades that resulted in someone getting arrested, or worse, hurt.
But as I said, I disagree with both of them – Character does NOT matter in sports.
We like to SAY that character matters in sports, and realistically, it SHOULD matter in sports, but it is time for us all to stop perpetuating the lie.
We don’t care about character in our athletes at all. We want our athletes to win, and that’s it. We as a fan base may curse athletes who commit some act of moral or criminal wrongdoing. But then we conveniently turn that ire off when the player brings greater success to our team.
It is true that the Florida Gators had a plethora of criminal charges stocking their active roster for the past five football seasons. But they also have two National Championships during that stretch. What do you think Gator fans care about? Would any of them trade in even one of those two National Championships to clear the names of their beloved team’s roster? Hardly.
How long did it take before Steelers fans welcomed Ben Roethlisberger back into the fold with open arms? My guess is about 20 minutes and 20 seconds into his first game back, when he completed a scoring pass to Mike Wallace.
It is time to stop pretending that we demand our athletes to live to a greater moral standard, because when push comes to shove we do not really care at all.
But now that it is time to step off of my soap box, I still need to crown a winner for this debate.
Just because I fundamentally disagree with the key message in both arguments, that does not mean I disagree with their entire arguments. And while I disagree with the principle of Sports Geek’s position, it is for that exact same reason that I am awarding him the verdict.
Because an athlete’s character does not REALLY matter to us in sports, past flaws should not be counted against recruits. As Sports Geek points out, kids make mistakes all the time. Some may be more serious than others, but that does not mean that they should be excluded from the opportunity to better themselves.
In fact, if we as fans REALLY want to see those games that we love cleaned up, then we absolutely MUST forgive the past transgressions of the kids that make childish mistakes. Those who are supposed to be “responsible” adults should assume that responsibility and actually COACH these kids. That’s right – It is the program administrators that must be held to the higher standard.
Coaches like Bruce Pearl, Jim Tressel, Lane Kiffin, and countless others are the ones setting the example for these kids that it is okay to bend and break the rules as long as you win games, and THAT is where accountability should be held.
In many cases, these coaches will have a greater impact on the lives of the student athletes than anyone else ever could. They need to act as mentors, role models, and leaders for the kids they are guiding. If they can live up to a higher standard, I can GUARANTEE you that the athletes will follow suit.