Social Conscience

Not long ago I made passing reference to the apparent fact that a great many athletes who make millions of dollars playing a game and getting endorsements seem to lack any sort of social conscience. I realize that there are notable exceptions — such as Billie Jean King, Magic Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Adrian Peterson — to name a few. But on the whole, many athletes are reluctant to speak out about the problems around them and to lend their considerable weight, money, and reputation to movements that might actually help rectify many social ills — such as poverty and the lack of opportunity for so many people. The medieval thinkers would have called this the “sin of omission,” the failure to act when an evil is clearly perceived. The problem is that many of these athletes simply don’t perceive the ills that surround them in this society.

Billie Jean King(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Billie Jean King
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Indeed, when many athletes retire the best they can think of is to open an academy or a school where they will teach youngsters to play the games that made them famous. I blogged about Andy Roddick not long ago in this respect. That is not a bad thing and it is nice to see these people “giving back” to the games they play, but they are after all just games. There are more serious problems  that need attention, to be sure. This simply shows us how small the world the world is in which these people live.

But when you think about it, what are we to expect? Take golf, for example. Sports Illustrated does a poll every year among the American male golfers, and except for David Duval (who has recently been relegated to golf’s minor leagues), there isn’t a single American golfer who would be caught dead voting for a Democrat. This is not to say that only Democrats are socially responsible; that is surely not the case. But so many of those golfers are simply concerned to make sure they keep a tight grip on as much of their money as they possibly can, and they seem convinced that the best way to assure that is to vote for Republicans. If they do get involved with charities it is usually ones that touch them in a close, personal way. God forbid the state or country should take some of their money and do some real good with it.

These men tend to identify the Democratic Party with Socialism and while they have no idea what that means, they know they don’t want to have  anything to do with it. But again, what are we to expect? They fly all over the world, but they have no idea what is going on in that world. They live in gated communities; fly in private jets or first class accommodations; stay in high-priced hotels or rent a condominium during their current tournament; play at the world’s poshest golf courses and are taxied back and forth in the latest expensive SUV;  and they engage in conversation only with like-minded, wealthy Republicans. They are the pawns of their corporate sponsors — as suggested by their clothing which is covered with corporate logos. In fact, the only people with more logos on their clothing are the Nascar drivers and they aren’t really athletes, as George Carlin reminded us years ago: they are rednecks driving around in circles.

In any event, golfers resemble so many of the other wealthy athletes living in a shrunken world talking only to others who think as they do, and worried that “the government” is going to take away some of their easy money (witness Phil Mickelson who recently threatened to move out of California because they passed a bill taxing wealthy citizens at a higher rate. Goodness!)

But, while we can only regret that socially aware athletes like Arthur Ashe are no longer around, when all is said and done we really should be thankful for the handful of wealthy athletes who do give some of their money and time to deserving causes — such as children’s hospitals and hurricane relief, for example. It’s remarkable that they rise above the level of awareness that seems to be the norm in the sports world where narcissistic men and women are chasing their dream in the form of a palatial home, expensive cars, and safe investments. But as they would be the first to tell me: it’s their money. Who am I to say what they should do with it?

Looking Back

I have been blogging for a little over a year now and it strikes me it is about time to take stock. I have to say this blogging thing has been great! I was hesitant at first, but the community of bloggers of which I am a part has been not only supportive but (more importantly) instructive — an extended family of bright and interesting people.  I have learned a great deal and have been able to sort a few of my ideas out and present them to appreciative readers who have made some very insightful comments. Granted, there have been dissenters and nay-sayers and disappointing days. I realize that my blogs do not brighten everyone’s day, and my son keeps catching me up on grammatical mistakes that might be off-putting for some.  But that’s the remarkable thing. In spite of the fact that I tend to see the glass half empty, I have still managed to post nearly 400 blogs in a little over a year and have had more than 9,500 readers — or at least “hits. ” I don’t know whether they have read a word I wrote. But I am delighted they at least stopped to see what was going on. And the truly astonishing thing about blogging is the international dimension of the medium. I have had hits from over 50 nations in the past quarter — even including countries like Slovenia and Bangladesh! And two of my new best blogging friends are from Great Britain and Ecuador if you can imagine.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of my readers happened to be the editor of Empirical magazine and he asked me to expand one of my blogs which he was kind enough to include in the December issue of that magazine (and an impressive magazine it is indeed!). Of special importance to me in this regard was the opportunity to send a second essay to Empirical in which I drew heavily on the data provided by a fellow blogger, the “old fart” (who will remain anonymous), whose contribution was vital to the underlying message of that essay dealing with the issue of climate change. That article is scheduled to appear in the January issue of the magazine. Again, the community to which bloggers become conjoined is the best thing about the entire enterprise in my view.

My best day was 126 views when I had the audacity to suggest that Andy Roddick should try to find something more important to do in his retirement from tennis than open another tennis facility. Apparently that blog struck a nerve. Do I draw from that day the conclusion that one needs to strike nerves to get readers? I hope not. In any event, I will keep on trucking along in my own way and relish the thought that a number of fellow-bloggers have sent me a variety of nice blogging awards and even if the daily numbers are not that impressive, they are rock solid. And, more importantly, I enjoy doing what I do, it keeps the mind alive, and I have learned a great deal from some very bright fellow bloggers. Too bad there aren’t more readers “out there” who can discover as I have how much of importance and interest these people have to say. In a world in which there is so much dreck being dispensed as wisdom these people need to be more widely appreciated. Some of them are truly exceptional in so many ways. It has been fun!

Lacking Perspective

Andy Roddick is retiring from professional tennis at the age of 30. This is big news on the tennis scene, though it has been apparent for some time that he cannot compete with the three or four top players in the world. His game is one-dimensional: it’s all about power. In any event he is reportedly going to build a tennis center and that will be his focus in the years to come. This is what the world needs: another tennis center. Andre Agassi and John McEnroe have tennis centers as does Vic Braden and heaven only knows who else. One notes that it has almost become a cliché for the retired athlete to build an athletic center — in his own name, of course — to teach the skills (and “life lessons”) to younger players.

The bothersome thing is that the world really does not need more tennis centers! It needs people with excess money to think about real human needs and attempt to address some of them. Think of the good that Roddick, for example, could do with the money that will go to another tennis center to teach kids how to play tennis. 45 million people in this country go to bed hungry; the number of homeless people who live with their kids in a cheap motel or sleep in their cars grows daily; the planet itself demands our attention since, as Diane Keaton (of all people) has noted “climate change, like gravity, doesn’t give a damn whether you ‘believe’ in it or not. It’s happening regardless.” Now there’s a woman with perspective.

I have commented in a previous blog about the apparent lack of perspective of so many wealthy professional athletes, specifically Billie Jean King who did remarkable things to help give women a foot up in women’s tennis but also seems to be unaware that there are things besides tennis that really matter. As I noted in writing about Billie Jean’s appearance before a Congressional Committee to promote tennis: “Billie Jean King is on my rather short list of sports heroes, along with Phil Mickelson and Magic Johnson — folks who are keen to do the right thing, not just their own thing. But I have always thought Billie Jean stands too close to the trees to see the forest. Like so many professional athletes, she lives in a small world, though she is admittedly an exception in exhibiting any social awareness whatever. She has repeatedly spoken out for tennis and for women’s rights — important issues, to be sure, especially the latter. But despite her “platform” she has also been silent throughout her life on the larger issues that affect us all, issues that take priority over even women’s rights and especially the success of this country’s tennis programs. One must applaud her for wanting to “give back” and promote worthy causes. But one must also question her perspective and lack of a sense of priorities.”

It might be asked: this is their money why shouldn’t they do whatever they want with it? This is true, of course. But the question is whether there is something they should do with their money. There’s a moral principle involved here: when we know there is a wrong being committed and we are in a position to ameliorate that wrong we have an obligation to intercede. The wealthy — athletes included — are in a position to do great good given their wealth and their position in this culture. They cannot claim ignorance of the wrongs that are being done on a daily basis all around them. Therefore they have an obligation, as do we all, to intercede and try to rectify that wrong. These people travel the world but they don’t seem to see what is going on around them. Their world is the size of a tennis court or a golf course or a football field — with a few exceptions, as mentioned. The world could be such a better place if all of us could see the wider canvass — but especially those with tons of money they apparently don’t know what to do with!