Steroid use. Dogfighting. Murder. DUI. Adultery. Cheating.
These were the headlines of the summer for many American sports fans. It seems that every day, there's a new story about an affair with a waitress or a too-good-to-be-true season that actually is too good to be true.
It's sad, really, the way the coverage of sports has changed. Most of the biggest sports stories of the summer have been tales about the failures and misdeeds of athletes rather than their accomplishments and triumphs.
The return of Michael Vick, with the affectionate head line, "Hide Your Dogs;" the murder of Steve McNair; the arrest of Plaxico Burress on gun charges and Donte Stallworth on DUI manslaughter charges; the scandal involving Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino's "indiscretion" and the SAT score questions involving former Memphis head coach John Calipari and former Tigers point guard Derrick Rose; and the release of more names from baseball's steroid list.
These stories happen. All professional athletes and coaches are not perfect. The problem is, the in-depth coverage of all of the negative stories — which is evident daily in newspapers and on the TV networks — is ruining the reason people watch sports. Sports are about human drama on the field, not human error off it.
So, in an attempt to bring the discussion back to what is great about sports rather than what is wrong with the people who play them, let's look at some of the best sports stories of this summer. Believe it or not, there were quite a few.
Sidney Crosby led the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup. Crosby has been among the biggest names in hockey since his arrival in Pittsburgh in 2005. Since then, he's been squeaky clean, keeping his reputation one of the best among major sports stars. This year, he led the Penguins, a team that was on the outside looking in not too long before playoff time, to an underdog victory against the feared Detroit Red Wings during the finals. Teammate Evgeni Malkin may have been the MVP for this year's Penguin team, but Crosby's leadership and winning attitude make the Pens' playoff run a story to be proud of.
Stewart Cink beat Tom Watson to win the British Open. As painful as it was to watch Watson choke away his chance to become the oldest player to ever win a major, Cink could not have been a more deserving champion. Always a gentleman, Cink has been a PGA tour regular since 1995 and hadn't been able to win the big one until this year. Well, he's got one now, and watching him celebrate with his family on the 18th green was one of the feel-good moments of the summer in sports.
USA soccer beat Spain, and finished second during Confederations Cup. That's right, World, we can play that kind of football well, too. Watching the U.S. team beat a more talented, faster and more experienced Spanish team showed the beauty of sports. Anybody can win any game on any given day. Team USA showed its flaws during a disappointing championship game loss to Brazil, but the win over Spain gave U.S. fans hope and pride. With the World Cup coming in 2010 and the announcement of an agreement between ESPN and multiple major European soccer leagues for TV rights, America may soon be a part of the world soccer obsession, and team USA helped take a big step in that direction.
Usain Bolt broke his own world record, twice. This guy is a freak. Bolt has shattered track and field records previously thought to be unheard of and continues to improve his already staggering times in the 100 and 200 meters. Then, when he crosses the finish line, he poses for the cameras, smiles and says all the right things. If Bolt were breaking touchdown or home run records instead of track and field barriers, he would be the biggest star in sports; the type of star today's sporting world needs.
There are more of these types of stories from this summer, but not enough. Sports are meant to be fun — a way for athletes to make a living doing something average Joes can only dream about, and a way for fans to live vicariously through their athletic heroes. Unfortunately, too many of those heroes are about as far from the true definition of hero as could be. But there is still hope, and it lies in those athletes out there, the Stewart Cinks and Usain Bolts, who still know what it means to be a "professional" athlete.
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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