Sunday, June 30, 2013

Restoring My Faith in Major League Sports - When Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Two recent events involving two of my favorite local sports teams have left me speechless. Mouth agape. I mean chin-hit-the-floor kinda reaction. I know what you're thinking? You? Speechless? Unbelievable!

But come on, hear me out now.

The first involves an incident that truly shocked everyone who heard about it. A young, talented, highly paid football player for the New England Patriots was arrested for...MURDER! So bizarre. He's accused of murdering, execution style, a close friend. Wow...just wow. (If that's how he treats friends, I bet his enemies must be quite relieved he's locked telling what he would have done to them.)

And then...the part that impressed me...

The actions of his employer, the owner of the Patriots. The owner immediately fired the player. Yup. Just like that. No pussy-footing around, no half-hearted vague sound bites of support for their star player. His name stripped from everything (locker room, pro shop, publicity material, etc.). Fired. Gone. Kaput. Shown to the gate of the stadium and booted right out thru it. I have no doubt this had a rippling effect throughout the organization that they hold their players to high standards and will not tolerate thugs and criminals on their team.

Then the news came down yesterday that they were extending an offer to fans who owned a jersey sporting the tight end's name and number. The jerseys can be returned to the team's pro shop and exchanged for a jersey representing another player on the team. (I can so picture the owner having a jersey bonfire to exorcise the player's memory from the franchise.)

What makes this so remarkable is that we live in an age where big league, big salary athletes are put on pedestals, and reside in gilded cages where they seem to live insulated, protected lives by the team owners and the leagues. Many infractions are overlooked, eyes are averted, misbehavior swept under the proverbial rug. Players seem untouchable in the eyes of the law, and in the eyes of the general public. They're bailed out time and time again. All in the name of profit. Owners don't want to lose someone they've invested heavily in. Someone who brings big dollars (i.e. fans who buy the tickets and the merchandise) and big championships to their team.

But how does all this appear to the up and coming athletes, the children who emulate these athletes? Who look up to them? What kind of influence is it having on the young impressionable boy or girl? Unfortunately, it's quite obvious to see the connection when you hear in the news about the big contracts young people receive and then read about the trouble they get into. The big head and attitude they develop when they realize the power they have at such a young age. In my opinion, they are just not mature enough yet to handle the kind of money, fame, pressure and accolades thrown at them. They don't even understand that they are just seen as a meal ticket to those around them. They are no longer human. They are a commodity. To be sold. Traded. To the highest bidder. But if and when their talent fades do the hangers-on and their owners. The player is no longer of use to anyone. The limelight dims and they become just another footnote in the sports annals.

I'm very proud of the Patriots owner for making a stand. Taking immediate action. It speaks louder than words. It shouts that they will not tolerate this type of behavior from their team, even from the high-profile "stars". It sends the right message to the team, the fans and the young impressionable boys and girls who dream of making it to the big show. Thank you, Mr. Kraft.

Incident number two involves hockey. Oh, how I love the sport. Don't get me wrong, there was a time when I thought it was the most vulgar thing to watch. I changed my mind pretty quickly after my youngest son began to play when he was just 7 years old. From the freezing bleachers of very VERY cold ice rinks, I watched (and shivered) as his talent grew. As I realized the hard work and dedication that boys and girls must put into this game to succeed. My son went on to be a very talented player (3 time MVP). He was always the fastest defenseman anyone ever saw (his idols were Bobby Orr and Jaromir Jagr). His dream, of course, was to grow up and be drafted by the hometown Boston Bruins. Alas, it never came to fruition but he did idolize the players, and still does.

So now that I was a reformed fan, I began to follow the Bruins as earnestly as my son. The team has struggled since their mighty glory days but in recent years has begun to build a much stronger, talented team. Now they usually make the playoffs. And two years ago achieved the pinnacle of success...The Stanley Cup.

This year they again persevered and made it to the Stanley Cup championship. Against an equally tough, talented team - The Chicago Blackhawks. What a series. Probably the best a hockey fan has seen in years. It was up, down. Winning, losing. So evenly matched. It was exciting, edge of the seat thrilling action. Each team fought hard, and never gave up. (And that goes for that elder statesman, Jagr, who much to my son's delight is now a member of the Bruins!)

The series came to an end in Game 6. The Blackhawks prevailed and won the Cup. It was a sad night for Boston players and fans. But I think everyone knew that there was no need to be hard on ourselves. No reason to hang our heads. The team worked very hard and gave us fans excitement. fun. joy.

As is customary, the two teams shook hands on the ice and skated away. One team to celebrate and hoist the Cup and the other to head to the locker room, change and drive home.
Usually at the conclusion of a championship that's the end of it (well, except for maybe a hometown celebration parade or something of the sort).

This time something else happened. Something that...yes, left me speechless.

The owners of the Chicago Blackhawks did something amazing. They took out a full page ad in the Boston Globe. And this is what it said:

Thank You
An Open Letter To The Boston Bruins Organization & The City Of Boston

Hockey is a tough game. As impressed as we were by the strength, talent, and competitive spirit of the Boston Bruins on the ice, we were deeply touched by what happened off the ice. Rarely have we experienced the hospitality you afforded us throughout the playoff series between two incredibly gifted teams.

On behalf of the Chicago Blackhawks organization and the entire Wirtz Corporation, we want to personally express our heartfelt appreciation to your city, the Bruins organization, and especially, the citizens of Boston for the remarkable welcome you showed our team and the many Chicagoans who visited.

From Boston’s political leadership to every member of the Bruins organization, from the players to the people on the street, you demonstrated respect, good sportsmanship, and a genuine love for the great game of hockey.

Like the rest of the world, Chicagoans have been reminded in recent days of Boston’s strength. Please know we tip our hat to your city’s big heart and gracious spirit. You lead by example and have set the bar very high for others to follow.

Rocky Wirtz, Chairman, Wirtz Corporation
John McDonough, President and CEO, Chicago Blackhawks

Okay, so there are words involved. But its the action I'm looking at. It's unprecedented. It speaks louder than the words themselves.

They didn't have to do this. They won the Cup. They could just skate away, enjoy their little parade. Milk the goodwill of the city for a bit, enjoy all the success and celebrity that comes with such a big achievement. And life would have gone on. Predictable. Until next season.

But no. They reached out to their opponent. To their opponent's fans. The opponent's home city. What good sportsmanship. Very classy. Gracious. To this, I tip my hat and tap my stick to you, Mr. Wirtz and your fine organization. You sir have set the bar very high for other owners to follow. And I certainly hope they will.

What do you think? Could this be the seismic shift in behavior we've all been yearning for? I think the fans will jump aboard the train of rational thought and follow suit when they see that the major sports teams and league owners are putting their collective feet down and sending out the message that bad behavior will not be tolerated and good behavior will be rewarded. Maybe then we'll all be on board and the days of player entitlement and thug behavior will cease to exist.

Hey, a girl can dream can't she?


  1. Excellent post KT......LOVED it!

    1. Why thank you very much, Karen! I just had to rant a bit on the state of major league sports. I love my sports teams and after having kids who played sports it made me see things very differently. But these recent instances got me thinking that maybe times are a changin'.
      Thanx for stopping by!

  2. Another good read...hope your insticts are right


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