The world of sports in this country, referring to every last bit, may seem utterly bizarre to anyone from the outside looking in. And rightly so. Generally, we cheer for one team over another because of its coincidental connection to us geographically, or that of a family member who passed it on for the same initial reason.
But for us die-hard fans, this cheering is rooted so deeply, we care more about these teams than we're sometimes willing to admit. We have honest and authentic lofty aspirations about watching other people we barely know personally, if at all, win championships at playing these games.
World of Sports
While in many ways, sports here would appear to be a microcosm of the broader American society from which it comes and where it continues to foster, it's to be expected. That's the same America from every corner of which come those that make up the entirety of our sports culture: players, fans, media, owners, administration, etc.
Of course, however, there's far more to our world of sports than a mere reflection of our broader society.
Some things, for example, are just plainly different.
In one observation made countless times before, a reference to football specifically, many have pointed out how it's a sport that embraces physical violence, and for a long time, did so unapologetically. Though, if taken alone without any further context from the rule book, such characterization is a gross oversimplification, but it's not wrong either.
In football, to end most plays, the objective is to tackle the ball carrier before this person advances to scoring territory. Actually, plays even begin much the same way they're expected to end: with hitting. The two opposing lines, offensive and defensive, quickly close what little distance there is between them as they smash into each other as fiercely as they can. Those sorts of collisions occur hundreds of times in a single game and those lines are a cornerstone of football.
Unsurprisingly, with an unrelenting goal of winning, and this may be true of all sports, athletes have continued to try their hardest to get bigger, faster, and stronger than the competition. In that sense, fans share the same hopes as the athletes they're rooting for, so the surrounding culture has very much embraced the ever-increasingly impressive physical human specimen, capable of feats in their respective sports that are nothing short of awe-inspiring to witness.
At this point it should be noted, the topic at hand here is not the means by which bigger-faster-stronger athletes get to that condition, rather, the culture in which they are so dedicated to do so, and more specifically, any unfortunate resulting implications.
What one thing, again, does the world of sports across this nation have in common? That unwavering shared desire for victory. It's the nature of competition itself and is perhaps the crux of spectator sport.
The problem occurs when that communal yearning to win trumps all else at the expense of the well-being of others. This is an unfortunate resulting implication, and at the very moment it leads to an infringement upon the rights of any individual, it is unacceptable.
So what's that got to do with any awe-inspiring athletes, regardless of whether or not they're a product of this aforementioned sports culture?
Any time our fandom reaches the point of hero worship, we ought to rethink how well we truly know any given athlete or coach. That's not to say fans should presume anything negative about any person, but just a suggestion that fans form as well an informed opinion as they reasonably can.
Because when serious issues arise, those that sports pale in comparison to, we've seen the real consequences of communities' inhibitions to become educated about the facts of cases where fan favorites are accused of wrong-doing.
The presumption of innocence in any criminal proceedings is a vital element to our free American society. But when our favorite public figures, from sports or otherwise, are at the center of a controversy regarding their own behavior, it's not an excuse for ignorance if you plan on speaking out on their behalf.
As a fan, if any athlete or coach is truly that important to you, what should be just as important is becoming well-informed about any hypothetical case involving that person.
Then, if the facts of a case strongly suggest wrong-doing, it should be called out and addressed appropriately, to the same extent, in the same manner, and by the same standards we hold everyone else accountable for their own behavior.
Due process, which includes the presumption of innocence and a requirement of the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, must still be respected as the essential feature it is to our criminal justice system.
But the court of public opinion is different; differences that are good in some ways, bad in others. Being as educated as possible on any given case helps to preclude the latter. That is what's being advocated for here.
At times, hero worship of sports stars, or even teams as a whole, reaches a point where it can be described as something eerily similar to a cult of personality. That's a culture that can preclude educated opinions on and well-informed public discourse of serious issues involving said star or team.
Examples of worst-case scenarios, like those at Steubenville and Penn State, which involve crimes that should still churn stomachs upon reflection, not only harbored such evil acts, but also led to their attempted cover-ups.
It's On Us
It's on us never to let cases like that happen again.
It's on us to take a stand against such crimes.
It's on us to ensure our world of sports is an environment where such crimes are unacceptable.
This is not an all-encompassing condemnation of sports fandom. I, like many of you reading this, am very much a part of this country's obsession with sports and its surrounding culture.
We at SB Nation, as a broad community of sports fans, are that culture. We are that fandom. We are that sports obsession. We don't exist otherwise. This article, nor any of mine published here before it, don't exist otherwise.
But we're also fully-capable of recognizing and identifying problems therewithin, and trying to make a difference where we can.
It is your celebration of sports fandom that has given me this platform to share my thoughts even about topics such as this.
We can make it clear that this celebration of sports absolutely does not include any inclination to assume sexual assault is acceptable, or domestic violence is acceptable, or child abuse is acceptable, or variations thereof are acceptable, just because the perpetrator was good at sports.