Monday, February 12, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different; The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy for our occassional reality check

Good for Mr. Shaughnessy over at the Globe to remind the rest of us sports-obsessed meat-heads that we are often given to too much hyperbole in our descriptions of athletes.

I try as often as possible to avoid calling these people heroes, or even (the popular amongst the athlete set) warriors. Too often we are given to the hyperbole of war in order to describe the action of the games we watch, and it takes a sobering moment of true heroism to remind us that it's just a game.

To say that what we watch are just games, I will admit, is probably going too far in the other direction, but by comparison that is all that sports is - a series of games that we watch for our own entertainment and edification.

It can be more, much more. It can be a sublime expression of determination and man's will to compete and overcome. In the minds of writers like George Plympton and the Hollywood brain trust it can be metaphorical, lyrical, and even social commentary.

I had a lot of time to reflect on these concepts this past weekend as I drove six hours (round trip) to bury the last of my grandfather's siblings. Salvatore Ricci, my mother's uncle, served in the Pacific theater of operations during World War II and received a bronze star, the nation's fourth highest honor, for his actions. He later supported his daughter who marched against the Vietnam War. He was, to say the least, a man that always was trying to make the world a better place and understood that what might be right at one time, might not be right twenty-five years later.

When our professional sports are looked at next to the actions of Boston firefighter Andrew Lee who brushed off talk of heroism as "just his job", former staff sergeant Sal Ricci who never talked about the war and his sacrifices, and former Arizona Cardinals Pat Tillman who left the NFL because serving the country was something he felt he had to do, I can't help but feel that all the hyperbole needs to go out the window. We need to remember that the sports themselves are not the metaphor - just that they are a tool to make the metaphor work.

I often feel that we look on the athletes and raise them up to the mythological stature of Zeus and Hercules because it's easy (as a sports writer I am admittedly one of the worst perpetrators). We all know about Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio. We know they were amongst the best at what they did. We look at them and say, "there walked giants." and we eventually brush aside the war heroes because there is something horrible associated with them - death and destruction, and we don't want to be reminded of our mortality, only of the promise of immortality and war is too dark a place for us to go for our heroes. And that is the grave injustice of our society.

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