Column: Hypocrisy Cheapens Sports Talk
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Jan 26, 2013, 14:51
The decision makers on one up-and-coming professional sports team evaluated the health of their star player – their linchpin – and opted to sideline him ahead of the squad’s playoff run.
The player was one year removed from a reconstructive elbow surgery, and the title-chasing franchise did not want to risk his health for short-term gain.
When the team fell short of its lofty expectations, media pundits reacted strongly to the decision. They claimed the team did its fan base a disservice by shutting down the standout. Major professional sports, they argued, are a win-at-all-costs industry.
Fast forward three months and another team allowed its star player to play through a knee injury in its first postseason game in five years. A first-round draft selection, the player promised he could meet the standard he set during the regular season.
As it turned out, he couldn’t.
After limping around for most of the game, his knee buckled violently in the final quarter. His injury was worsened and his team was eliminated.
This time, the town’s talking heads criticized the coach for allowing the rookie sensation to stay on the field. The decision, they said, was short-sighted and put the player’s promising career in jeopardy.
The first player was Stephen Strasburg, an All Star pitcher for the Washington Nationals. The second was Robert Griffin III, the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
In many cases, the fans and media members who chastised the Nationals’ conservative strategy were the same folks who attacked the Redskins for rolling the dice.
Unfortunately, such hypocrisy is par for the course in today’s sports culture. America’s sports vernacular is hamstrung by an inability or unwillingness to delve deeper than the surface.
Consequently, the convoluted nature of many situations is often oversimplified.
A decision was either right or wrong. Players are either good or bad — clutch performers or choke artists. The problem with these half-baked evaluations is that they rarely reflect reality (See: Tony Romo).
My point is this: We, the sports watchers and writers of the United States, ought to consider the big picture more before passing judgment.
Let’s return to Washington’s dueling dilemmas and play devil’s advocate. What would have happened if the Nationals won the Word Series despite Strasburg’s absence?
My guess is that the nation’s capital would have been abuzz with talk commending the team’s cautious approach. Murmurs of Strasburg being overrated and expendable may even have bubbled to the surface.
And if the Redskins had fended off Russell Wilson and the upstart Seattle Seahawks in the NFL playoffs earlier this month?
Griffin would have been complimented for the gutsy outing and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan lauded for his battle-tested judgment. Neither team was that fortunate, though, and both fell victim to our compulsive need to label teams and players.
They were both in a lose-lose situation. Unless they won.