How many times have we heard it asserted by empty-headed school administrators that "athletics build character"?  I guess it is true, because some of the most notorious "characters" we have ever known have been athletes. Right?

Jokes abound about the inverse correlation between athletics and virtue.  Take the following for example: Did you hear that the Dallas Cowboys football team was arrested in front of 90,000 screaming fans?  The typical response is "No, what was the problem?"  The reply:  "Well, it seems that they huddled up before the game began and therefore violated the terms of their probation."  When I first heard the joke, I retorted, "I hope the arrests included Jerry Jones!" (their trashy, but wealthy, owner who often parades ostentaciously on the sidelines during games).  Street criminals are generally forbidden from consorting with felons, but I doubt that this injunction covers, as it should, the owners of professional sports franchises.

If the emphasis upon athletic competition in this country seems grossly exaggerated and out of bounds to you, that is because it is.  Millions upon millions of dollars are paid each year to professional athletes, who but for their ability to hit a baseball (think of Pete Rose) or to run with a football (consider O.J. Simpson) would probably find themselves in a subsistence mode, perhaps casting license plates somewhere in the basement of the hoosegow.  Thanks to team owners who, like sociopaths, are fixated upon winning at any and all costs and to "the big stupid public" who are willing to part with sizeable sums of money in order to watch athletic contests, American life is bedraggled with this yet another curse.

This social cancer threatens to consume us.  I find it astonishing that so many spectators dress religiously in sports regalia and act like idiots at sports events.  Some zealots strip to the waist in freezing temperatures to exhibit their bodies painted in garish team colors along with their respective mops of hair carved with a silly message to the viewing audience.  Thoughtful people, I guess, are expected to be amused.

The latest demoralizing outrage was from the world of professional baseball, or what used to be America's great "national past-time."  After his team won the 2008 World Series, Chase Utley, pictured above, star second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, was introduced to screaming fans, in whose midst were many adoring children. Utley yelled into the microphone, "World fu----g champions!"  His abominable words served only to intensify the crowd's applause.  Now, please understand, I am neither prig, prude, nor puritan.  But this type of public display is not intelligent, sportsmanly, virtuous, or otherwise noble or worthwhile.  It is, in the most vulgar and myopic sense imaginable, about simply winning a game, which in and of itself amounts to little or nothing at all.  The underlying reasons why we encourage sporting events have been forgotten. Instead of edifying us sports are tearing us down as a society.

It was not so long ago that Pepper Martin, who starred in the 1931 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Athletics, was asked in the glow of victory what his greatest ambition was.  He replied pensively, "To go to heaven." I appreciate his answer more than I can say, because it demonstrated his awareness that human life has a transcendent dimension, which towers beyond the ephemeral significance of the money, glory, and acclaim of a game.  When I compare Pepper Martin's words to those of Chase Utley, I am not particularly hopeful about the state of American public life.

When reformers nowadays set out to remediate a problem in our society, the realization soon dawns upon them that there are no simple solutions, at least none which is appealing.  The more genuine a solution appears to be the more daring and challenging to implement it becomes.  Yet it bears remembering that America was an idea that once worked, and worked well.  As we have strayed from the core values and principles underlying the country which once was, corruption and dysfunction have set in. Freedom of expression is now commonly identified with vulgarities and moral debauchery, thanks in part to people like Mr. Utley and to the brainless who cheer for him regardless of what he says or does.

From religion to politics, from sports to other forms of entertainment, the seeds of a revolution are being sown.  There are many who find the present state of affairs in this country intolerable and, during this dearth of leadership, are awaiting one who will rise up and give voice to their aspirations and hopes.  For sure, it is not Barack Obama.  But a new day is dawning under these clouds of despair.  It is coming, and with a vengeance.

November 3, 2008