So I am deeply sensitive when people suggest that sports amount to little more than a ball bouncing, bouncing, bouncing across a court (as the same old girlfriend used to say). For those who so casually dismiss sports for its adolescent kitsch, I would point out there is a deeper meaning: For the kid in the ghetto, the ability to bounce, bounce, bounce the ball might be his only hope for dignity. Sports nurtures dreams of achieving self confidence and masculine striving for the skinny kid watching a boxer dance around the ring with sublime ease.
And maybe that's why we give our athletes a free pass when they commit violent acts of crime. Allen Iverson got into a violent brawl during his senior year in high school. Chairs were thrown. People got hurt. He was sentenced to jail time. It did not matter. Governor Wilder granted him clemency four months into his sentence. Philadelphia 76ers owner Pat Croce had a smile wide as a coat hanger when he made Iverson the overall pick in the 1996 draft. Fans all over Philly pumped their fists in excitement. Meanwhile, the court dockets are studded with the indiscretions of our athletes. Allegedly, Kirby Puckett sexually assaulted a woman in a restaurant by pulling her into a men’s room and fondling her. It was reported weeks later that both his former wife and supposed mistress claimed he was abusive. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was accused of murder. That same year he won the NFL's defensive MVP award. And need I mention the name that even today damn near causes a race riot? Yes, O.J. There is a definite pattern here. All got a free pass.
This is wrong. I do not think athletes should get a free pass. I don’t think we should train our children and future athletes to believe that they are above the law and morality. But I do fall victim to worshipping athletes myself. The heroes of my youth taught me a lot about life. They taught me never to give up. They gave me a model of striving to emulate. This is sports at its best: a tribute to the striving for human perfection.