As I waited to interview members of the CSU hockey team after their win last Friday night, I noticed a group of young boys, probably 10 or 11 years old, waiting for autographs outside the locker room.
Seeing the kids so eager and excited to meet the players they had just watched on the ice brought me back to the time I was their age and sports were the only thing that mattered. At that moment, the kids represented everything that is right about sports and still pure in what has simply become a business.
Ah, to be back at an age when there were no cares, save for friends, family, food and sport; when everyone played simply for the fun of being on a team and the thrill of winning. In a day and age where professional players – the ultimate role models for children – are more concerned with their salaries, commercial deals and their own images, these kids refreshed the inherent innocence and goodness of sports.
In a society that pays athletes (entertainers) more than doctors, teachers and even the president, it is no wonder that fame can go to their heads. However, even the most arrogant, cocky, self-loving sports star was once just a young person with a dream and a love for the game.
Our country has made its sports leagues into businesses that can corrupt even the most pure aspects of sport. Kids that started out playing a sport for fun can easily turn into the antithesis of everything they loved. But back where it all begins in the thousands of youth leagues around the country, that is where the greatness of our sports is born. That is where kids learn to communicate, learn real life lessons, and learn how to be a part of something bigger than them.
Don’t get me wrong. Pro sports aren’t all bad – I love watching the NFL as much as I love to hate some of its players. I would much rather watch a pro game than a junior high game, but to hear a player such as Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings say, “I play when I want” just disgusts me.
Even more disturbing is the trend of parents and coaches verbally or physically abusing youth sport officials and even their own children. The most extreme example of this is the Massachusetts hockey dad Thomas Junta who beat to death his son’s coach, whom Junta accused of running too physical a practice. These parents become so wrapped up in their children’s sports that they attempt to live out their own athletic fantasies through their child. Not only is this type of behavior embarrassing for the child, it ruins the unspoiled environment that makes it fun for children to play sports. To me, this is the most pressing issue facing youth sports today.
That brings me back to my original thought: the youngsters waiting for an autograph from the CSU hockey team. They represent all that is still good and pure in sports, yet uncorrupted by the realities that dominate professional sports.