Sometimes you have to own your ugly. This is mine.
I am a fantasy football playing, college team cheering, NFL-loving chick who spends hours every weekend glued to the television watching men run up and down a field in tights. I bust celebration dances when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers manage to do the impossible and win a game. I dress my daughter in Falcons onesies. Yes, I love the game–but I don’t love them pros.
My husband showed me a picture of a mock jersey for Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, whose Heisman-worthy season has recently been overshadowed by rape allegations. Where Winston’s name would have been, the fan pasted one word on the jersey: INNOCENT. I made a stank face and turned my head. The ensuing conversation forced me to admit that I suffer from a lingering case of athlete envy.
Back in grade school, I resided squarely in the category of nerdy kid. I lived and breathed my grades and any accolades that came from them, but secretly craved the pixie dust that made people inhale the farts of athletes and swear they didn’t stink. I pretended to hate them and their cloying fans.
I thought adulthood would be the great equalizer, and then I grew up. Teaching at FSU, I met many wonderful student-athletes (I was Christian Ponder‘s English 101 teacher, my claim to fame). But something bothered me. “Tutors” shadowed the athletes everywhere, poking their heads in classroom windows to make sure butts were in seats and collecting homework assignments for Blackboard. It was a hand-holding I’d never seen before. If all this sounds aboveboard to you, consider that the FSU athletics department was penalized for an academic cheating scandal.
To some student-athletes, school is just a part-time gig hindering their real job: being an athlete. This rankles. So many students fight to maintain grade point averages for skimpy scholarships and struggle to eat, while athletes swagger across campus full on meal plans they skip out on some days.
One college football player told me he had no idea everyone on campus didn’t have a meal plan.
I was flabbergasted at the entitlement until I realized just how insulated athletes can be.
I was lucky enough to visit the athletics building and see for myself the fabled fountains of Gatorade and golden toilet seats. Only one of those is a hyperbole. There was a beautiful filigreed metal tree on the wall, with engraved Plexiglas pictures of white-haired
saints alumnae who had donated millions to the program. This is why FSU’s name still rings bells even after decades of having a mediocre football team. Money.
This is why they coddle athletes from birth to pro. Money. This is why, when athletes are accused of doing awful things, police officers warn the alleged victim that they will be raked over the coals in a football town. Power. This is why fans attempt to hunt down and spread the name and image of alleged rape victims to discredit them. Mania. Fans border on worship, becoming devotees of impervious gods who couldn’t care less about their existence.
Not that Winston could not be innocent of rape. He may be. I am waiting on a trial and verdict before casting any opinions on the matter. But the Steubenville rape case is a prime example of what happens when society prizes a game over people. The laments are not concerning an alleged victim, but that “poor boy’s” tarnished future, even if that “poor boy” turns out to be a sexual predator.
If no one protected athletes at all costs for the sake of a team, “football culture” would not exist. We all contribute to this culture that makes heroes out of men, but demonizes them when they fall short of the glory. Especially the black ones. I disapprove of both the coddling and the abandonment. So when I say I don’t like athletes, it is a blanket statement that thinly describes the disdain I feel for the mythos of the athlete, and not the people behind the personas.
I have heard it said that sports is a benevolent good. No; sports is a kajillion-dollar industry that chews up young bodies and spits them out once they are broken. The real gods are not on the playing field but in sky boxes wearing suits and penny loafers. And they never, ever stop laughing.