Lost Veneration It's high time we stop the shabby treatment of big-time athletes and show a little respect

September 10, 2000

How disgraceful that Americans overpay schoolteachers, glorify
social workers and lavish attention on stay-at-home mothers while
giving scant money, publicity or deference to the people who
really deserve it--namely, our Super Bowl champions. "Disrespect
was the theme of the Rams' camp this year," reports the
Associated Press. "Ask any player and he'll say the team was
ignored in the off-season."

"There's a certain amount of disrespect," agrees rookie Rams
coach Mike Martz, inexplicably bereft of a book contract or
genius grant.

Says The Kansas City Star of this veneration vacuum: "You could
call it disrespect."

Damn right it's disrespect, and the Rams aren't the only ones
getting dissed this year. "I deserve a lot more respect than I'm
getting," says unsigned Heat guard Tim Hardaway, who was paid
$4.8 million last season. "I've got to look out for Tim Hardaway
and Tim Hardaway's family."

The truth is, we don't properly esteem any of our top athletes.
College football champ Florida State? "Florida State bears a
grudge of disrespect," notes The Salt Lake Tribune. "The
[preseason] polls relegated the Seminoles to the lowly spot of
No. 2." Runner-up Virginia Tech? "The critics," reports The
Boston Globe, "disrespected them." Ninth-ranked Florida? "It's
disrespect to us as a whole," says senior Alex Willis, referring
to the Gators' unjustly unheralded wide receiver corps.

When will we, as Americans, stop fawning over doctors and nurses
and recognize the vital contributions of the Illinois defense?
("Senior linebacker Michael Young," reports the Daily Illini,
"said the defense will make the best of the disrespect.") When
will this nation stop glamorizing engineers and start
appreciating the New Mexico offense? ("All that disrespect," says
Lobos tackle Jon Samuelson, "is a challenge to us.") Why won't a
single magazine, television network or sneaker company
acknowledge the athletic skills of Raptors swingman Vince Carter
and fill the hole in his self-esteem that evidently opened when
he was--according to an article last week in The Toronto
Star--"disrespected by members of [Tracy] McGrady's family and
entourage..."?

Society has come to a sorry pass when an NBA All-Star is not
given props by his own cousin's entourage. But that's hardly
surprising, because nobody in North America believes in, roots
for or supports our elite athletes, save elite athletes. "Nobody
thought we could do it last year," says Rams defensive tackle
Nate Hobgood-Chittick of the NFL title. "But we just believed in
ourselves."

"Nobody thought we could do it," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher,
of winning the Super Bowl (which they barely lost). "[But] we
thought we could."

Yet these proud warriors, surrounded by no-men and ill-wishers,
constantly prove us wrong. They're the Little Engines That Could.
"Nobody gave us a chance to be where we are at this point,"
Rockies reliever Gabe White said when Colorado miraculously
occupied first place 12 weeks into this season.

"Nobody gave us a chance to do much of anything," said Karl
Malone, whose Jazz didn't do much of anything in the NBA
playoffs, but that misses the point. The point is this: You must
respect a man of Karl Malone's stature. When 40-year-old Tim
Raines, cut last month from the U.S. Olympic baseball team, said
"a man of my stature" deserved better treatment, I was struck
again by how shabbily we treat pro athletes, and a wave of shame
washed over me.

Americans now spend so much time doting on scientists, spoiling
soldiers and kissing the pampered fannies of the layabout middle
class that we've forgotten those people, invisible and largely
unrewarded, who do the important work of society: People such as
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who was, The Denver Post reported
last week, "frequently and roughly disrespected all last year."
We're better than this, America. If you see Tim Hardaway on the
street--walking with Tim Hardaway's family--salute him, salaam him,
show him some respect.

COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

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