Posted by: ppernick | April 12, 2007

Take me out to the ballgame

Two news stories dealing with the behavior of sports celebrities have caught my eye recently. 

One was the recent suspensions dealt by the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell.  Multiple arrests in short timeframes have led to a lot of bench time and loss of pay this upcoming season for the Titans’ ‘Pacman’ Jones and the Bengals’ Chris Henry. Moments after meting out the punishments, Goodell also announced the league will begin holding teams responsible for inappropriate player behavior as well. On top of longer suspensions and higher fines for players, there’s a potential that teams could be stripped of draft picks.

The other was a news piece about the Starbury line of sneakers.  Last year, the Knicks’ Stephen Marbury teamed up with sports retail chain Steve & Barry’s to produce a low-cost line of apparel known as the Starbury Collection.  Ben Wallace of the Chicago Bulls recently joined him in the endorsement of this line.  While Air Jordans and LeBron sneakers sell for $100-$200 a pair, Starbury sneakers cost $14.98.  Of course, the reduced price isn’t without a cost. They’re extremely hard to get and (based on reviews that I’ve read) not very comfortable. And big surprise, people are already selling them on eBay for twice the price or more.

Both of these stories lead to me believe (hope?) that the standards are rising for sports celebrities in the limelight. 

The NBA has punished players harshly for inappropriate behavior on the court (i.e. Ron Artest in Nov. 2004).  The MLB has cracked down on drug use.  But the NFL seems to be going a step further; punishing players for behavior seemingly unrelated to their play on the field.

In some ways I’m disappointed. The idealistic side of me would love for maturity and common sense to be a given in everybody.  That professional sports leagues need not force players to act responsibily in their personal lives.  But I know that isn’t the world we live in.  Will the NFL going this far make a difference?  I hope so.  Even if it’s just a fraction of a percent.  I hope future players will get the message.  If you want to get the money and celebrity status a professional sport can provide, you have to earn it – not only with your skill on the field, but with respectable behavior off the field as well. As Goodell said in one article, “representing the NFL is a privilege, not a right.” 

It’s always nice to see the players who already understand this.  Those who not only work hard and excel on the field, but do what they can to make a difference off the field as well.  Warrick Dunn stands out most in my mind.  First round draft pick and selected to the Pro Bowl team multiple times, he’s shown his dedication to his job.  Then when Hurricane Katrina hit he showed his dediation to his community, challenging all NFL players to donate to the relief (and has since collected over $5 million).  It was probably around that time that I also learned of his Homes for the Holiday program – helping struggling single mothers to purchase homes. 

Now there’s Stephen Marbury and Ben Wallace in the news. Not necessarily to the same extent as Dunn, but they’ve both got skills on the court and trying to do something good outside of that as well. Marbury’s wish and ability to provide a shoe at a price accessible to more than the upper-middle class is admirable. The willingness of both players to endorse the product without getting paid and only receiving royalties on the sales is laudable. Marbury’s promise to wear them on the court the entirety of the 2006-2007 season (and Wallace starting to do the same) is wonderful – providing a reason for kids to desire the shoes and not just their parents. 

The bar is being raised on what consitutes acceptable and commendable behavior from professional athletes. Goodell, Marbury and Wallace are only the most recent and noteworthy to affect it.  How high can it go?

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