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Athletes are people too

Sports can be cruel as often as they are wonderful. For every walk-off home run a major leaguer hits, there is a youth league baseball player who strikes out with a chance to win the game for his team.

Unfortunately, fans can make sports worse than they need be. High school, college and professional athletics have changed dramatically during my lifetime, and I’m not exactly a graybeard. Florida football coach Urban Meyer, during his time at the podium at the Southeastern Conference’s Media Days last week, touched on the differences in his sport sort of as a way to justify the contracts college coaches boast these days (he had a point, though the amount of money his sport generates is a stronger one).

The biggest problem is that fans and the media have fed off each other and created a monster that chews up and spits out any coach or player that doesn’t perform up to expectations on the field or makes a mistake off the field. We now have a situation where coaches and players are wary of the media and, to some extent, the fans, who see the people they cheer for more as emotionless gladiators than young men and women simply using their athletic ability as a way to better their lives.

Check out any number of fan message boards (the example Meyer gave for how things have changed in college football), and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Fans talk about and care about athletes only as far as it affects how many wins their team will have. They care about sports writers even less, as I found out last week when my SEC West predictions found their way to an LSU message board. Tigers fans were unhappy that I picked their team to lose four games and finish fourth in the division. I was sent a couple of unfriendly e-mails and was called a crackhead and an inbred, among other pleasantries, on the message board. My feelings were unhurt; I thought it was great to see people in Louisiana reading The Clanton Advertiser. The venom spewed by fans can become a problem, though. See, the anonymity of message boards allow people to say things they probably wouldn’t otherwise.

That’s why something like Media Days is refreshing: we get to see coaches and players as the human beings they are instead of the fictional characters we create.

Note: Stephen Dawkins is the sports editor for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays.