Earlier this afternoon I was taking a stroll through a bookstore when I saw a book with the face of Mickey Mantle on it. The title is “The Last Boy“. The book explores the life of Mantle but that isn’t what made me stop and literally think about sports in this age. The sub name of the book is “And the End of America’s Childhood“. That is what made me stop. I ordered a coffee and left the store to go pick up my son but in my head all I heard was “the end of America’s childhood”.
My own son, now 7. Ironically the number Mantle made famous, has just started collecting football cards. Not because he knows the players but because his father is a football fan and has boxes stored in the attic of cards dating back to the late 60’s. It’s something he and I do together on a Sunday before kick-off and he runs outside to play. It wasn’t always like that though. Where are today’s sports hero’s?
I remember Mickey Mantle. Not as a player but by his legendary status. I remember Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench. They were idols. I collected 7-11 slurpee cups because they had baseball pictures on them. The game was fun but what surrounded it was better. It’s almost what made a 10 year old boy, a, well, ten year old boy. You remember playing catch with dad in the backyard or with the neighbors.
When fall came around it wasn’t about the leaves falling off the trees but the grid-iron. There was no Madden NFL game to look out for in August…you were lucky if you could play Tecmo Bowl. Like baseball, football had it’s legends. The Walter Payton’s and Larry Csonka’s. There was class acts on the sidelines. Bud Grant, Don Shula, Tom Landry. And guess what? They all wore ties to the games. Not this parade of NFL merchandise or freaking gray hoodies. Coaches coached like they did in college and high-school. With respect for the game.
Where are the legends now? Who do you want your child to look up to in sports? Tiger Woods? Lebron James? Jason Taylor?
Baseball has been marred with steroids and football is under seize by show-boaters and “show me the money” types. For every one Peyton Manning there are 30 Terrell Owens, if not more. For years we have been told that a boy’s father should be his idol not a sports star, but my hero is my dad and I still worshipped the ground that Larry Csonka ran on. I rode the air that Bob Griese passed in and I ducked each time Nolan Ryans’ fast ball whizzed by a batter. I think I turned out o.k.
But who would I want my son to look up to? Honestly, I can’t think of a single one. Not one single sportsman in this modern age that I would hope my son would pin a poster of on his wall. Seek an autograph from in an airport terminal. Shake hands with on a crowded street. Where have the legends gone?
Sports has always been about money, but it was also about integrity, honor, and the love of the game. Now it’s not about any of those things. It’s about the money, the perks, and more money. Channing Crowder, the Miami Dolphins anemic LB tackler was recently asked why the team can’t win at home. His reply? Because there was too much distraction. Because they tend to look into the stands. Is he serious? He gets paid millions of dollars to make a tackle and his excuse is because home games are too distracting? Now we know why he will never be anything more than a second tier run-stopper.
His words do not solely belong to him as many NFL players and other sports players offer the same convoluted excuses at every turn. Did you ever hear Larry Bird complain about anything? What about Magic Johnson? When Johnson was diagnosed with AIDS it was a shock for a lot of people. Instead of moaning about the unfair curve ball that was handed him, he embraced his issues and apologized to everyone without needing to or the media expecting him too.
My son has a long way to go before he turns on a television and flips on a sporting event all on his own. Watches a “favorite” player or runs out and buys that poster. I just wonder if there will be anything left by then for him to root for? Players switch teams now, they go where the money flows, and that often leaves kids wondering why their favorite player isn’t on their favorite team. It teaches money and it showcases the lack of respect to the fans that those legends displayed all those years ago. When ironically, a boy’s childhood surrounded those names, individuals, and sports. Back when a pick-up baseball game came with one wooden bat and three balls, no bases, and a dirt field. You played until the sun went down. Now, it’s grass infields, closed parks, aluminum bats, bases, and bags of balls. You play until some official kicks you off the field for trespassing.
It makes you think. Is there any more “Sandlot” kids left in this world?
Oh, and before you think it, I’m not that old…I can still remember!