Do we need heroes in sports?

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Buzz Bissinger has a post up over at The Daily Beast today, lamenting the absence of colorful heroes, rakes and rogues in sports today:

Sports are bigger than ever. It occupies us more than ever. It is ever exploding. There are still routinely great performances. But behind those performances there is less and less human dimension, either colorful or heroic … Are there any athletes in the modern-day era of sports either truly heroic or just truly colorful?

He comes up with a few examples. In the hero category he rightfully cites Pat Tillman, although his heroism had little to do with sports as such.  He also names a couple of people who fit the “colorful” bill well enough by virtue of their lack of self-censorship, like Rex Ryan, but notes that, for the most part, sports figures are programmed to be dull and non-responsive and private.

And he’s right.  It’s just that I just don’t know that this is a problem for anyone besides sports writers looking for juicy quotes.  While I love the stories about players of yore, the ones I love the most aren’t really about heroism as we tend to define it within the context of sports.  They’re the things written by or about people on the margins (think Jim Bouton), not the stuff written about the big names as they’re making their big marks.  The Mickey Mantle book that came out last year was way more insightful and interesting than anything anyone got from him when he was the king of the world.

Moreover, I don’t know that, insight aside, it’s all that healthy for our society to celebrate athletes as heroes.  How many of those would-be heroes pan out as true heroes over time?  How many role models turn out to be anything but?  Bissinger correctly notes that the relatively bloodless content of the game — the live action and recaps and box scores and all of that — has taken precedence, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  If anything, it helps us to remember that sports are just that — sports — and not some substitute for real life. As always, XKCD got it right when it comes to identifying what we’re really doing when we try to make sporting events into something greater than what they are.

I get what Bissinger is saying. And as someone who grew up on the sort of sports coverage in which heroes and rogues meant everything, I too sort of miss the lack of color we see today and like it when someone breaks from the “I’m just trying to help the ballclub” script.

But I don’t know that it’s a bad thing in an absolute sense. It’s just where sports and society is heading. And it may very well us to bring some different perspectives into the sporting world that could, just maybe, make our society’s relationship with sports a bit more healthy than it was in an age where narratives were applied and dramatic roles were assigned to people playing what are, in effect, random games.

Yasiel Puig was late to a workout on Monday, so Dave Roberts benched him

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Earlier, Craig wrote about how Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is back in manager Dave Roberts’ doghouse once again. Puig didn’t slide into second base when he was caught stealing to end Saturday’s game, which irked Roberts.

Puig didn’t earn himself any brownie points on Monday as he was late to a team workout and was benched as a result, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. Roberts said, “That was a decision he made, not me.” Roberts added that he was disappointed in Puig, though he did note that the former All-Star’s behavior has been improved for most of the season.

Puig, 26, has had a solid season, batting .259/.339/.474 with 26 home runs, 70 RBI, 66 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 554 plate appearances. While he hasn’t provided value on the same level as Justin Turner or Corey Seager, he’s been a valuable part of the lineup which makes this drama all the more unfortunate with just a week and a half before the start of the NLDS.

MLB, MLBPA grant Pirates exemption for Jung Ho Kang to participate in Dominican Winter League

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Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Pirates were granted an exemption by Major League Baseball and the players’ union which will allow infielder Jung Ho Kang to participate in the Dominican Winter League without being removed from the restricted list.

Kang, 30, has been denied a visa by the Department of State as a result of his third DUI in South Korea last September. Kang was also under investigation in 2015 for alleged sexual assault.

Kang is under contract through the end of 2018 and the Pirates have a club option for the 2019 season as well, so it makes sense they would try to get him into some type of baseball action ahead of next season. The infielder has hit .273/.355/.483 in 837 plate appearances across two seasons in the majors. As Brink notes, Kang has already arrived to the Dominican Republic and will work out with his team, Aguilas Cibaenas, ahead of the start of the season on October 20.