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Thursday, August 18, 2011

By John Gilstrap
I hate what professional sports has become.

I blame free agency. Yes, I understand that from the players’ point of view free agency is the equivalent of emancipation, but I don’t think of sports from the point of view of the player. I’m a fan—a paying customer—and I miss the days when teams were about, you know, teams. I miss the teaching moment that was built around the pre-free agency notion that the individual was subservient to the team. That’s why we put our kids into sports, right? So that they can learn the lessons of teamwork?

Nowadays, professional sports is all about the money. Okay, it’s always been about the money, but I lament the migration of the prima donna from its former exclusive domain of opera to the gridiron and the baseball diamond.

In a few short weeks, I will once again, for the forty-seventh time, walk into the whirling propeller that defines being a Washington Redskins fan. Yes, Dan Snyder is Satan incarnate, and I won’t recognize eighty percent of the names on the roster, but dammit, this team is the descendant of Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer (yes, and Joe Thiesmann, but decent Washingtonians don’t speak of The Ego). The Redskins will yet again lure me into their web with early season wins, and they will yet again fall apart in mid-October. I’m not a sports stats fan, but I’ll bet bucks to buttons that no team on the planet has given up more fourth-quarter leads than the Redskins.

The disparity that separates real sports from their professional cousins is most widely illustrated this time of year during the Little League World Series, currently being televised on ESPN. It’s refreshing to watch 12-year-old athletes giving their all to win a game simply for the right to proclaim themselves winners. If you haven’t watched any of these six-inning games yet, you really ought to take the opportunity to do so.

First of all, it’s great baseball, complete with breathtaking offense and defense, but also littered with the occasional egregious error. I cannot imagine the thrill these kids must feel when they watch the recordings of themselves, complete with sportscaster commentary and instant replay.

And here’s the heart-wrenching part: Often as not, the losing team cries. These boys have put everything into the game, and while their athletic prowess might have matured, their emotions have not. They’re kids, and they’re all heart. Someday, the best among them will probably join the ranks of free agents, but for this brief slice of time, they’re just athletes, pure and simple.

There's a writing analogy to be made here--those who write for the love of the craft versus those who write because their franchise demands it--but I'll leave it to you, dear Killzoners, to connect those dots.


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