From the sideline

Column: Star athletes lose perspective, aspecht@newsobserver.comJuly 11, 2013 

It seems like every time you turn around, another professional athlete has been caught using drugs – performance-enhancing or otherwise – or has partaken in some other act of stupidity involving a weapon or a nightclub.

Heck, it’s not uncommon for some of that behavior to show its face with athletes who are still in college. It kind of makes you wonder what in the world could they possibly be thinking?

When they were younger, they played their respective sports for the love of the game no different than the many local youngsters do for parks and recreation departments and similar youth sports organizations.

There was no signing bonuses or three-year contract extensions. The love of a sport and the opportunity to play it was all that mattered. Why isn’t that all that matters when young athletes grow up and become superstars?

People often make a connection between the amount of money professional athletes make and the life errors of those who commit them. I’ve heard a former professional athlete talk about others who “got all that money and got in the spotlight and let it get to them” and how easy it is to screw up when you find yourself with an amount of money that enables you to do so.

Well, duh. People are only human, and humans have an awful track record against an opponent known as temptation.

But while the big fall could happen to anyone with that trouble-enabling amount of money, it still stinks worse when it happens to a professional athlete than when it happens to a wealthy developer or the winner of a lottery jackpot. I’ve come up with two good reasons why that’s the case.

Reason No. 1: We all hear about it. Like all other celebrities, sports stars become public figures and are all over the media.

More importantly, they are role models for young athletes who dream of being in the pro athletes’ shoes when they grow up. There are few greater shames than setting that kind of example for children, who we all know are sponges of the environment they are exposed to.

Reason No. 2: These guys got to play sports for a living, for crying out loud! Give me the size and skills and a chance to play on any pro team today, and you, my friends, will be reading the work of a new sports editor tomorrow.

It may not always be easy to walk a straight line as a professional athlete. Without doubt there are pressures in that line of work not many of us can relate to in our more pedestrian lives. But it’d be nice to see less of them in the news for the wrong reasons.

Any professional athlete who is flirting with a dumb decision should be able to reflect back on when they fell in love with the game they play – and remember the next wave of kids who are in a similar place in life and are watching – and make the right call.

Maybe remembering a simpler time when playing for a sports team was just about good, clean fun would be the right kind of shot in the arm.

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