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Steubenville, CNN & Sports Fanaticism

By The Reverend Published: March 22, 2013

By now you know the story of the two Steubenville, Ohio high school football stars being convicted of raping (digitally penetrating) a passed out drunk 16 year old girl...and taking pictures.

Until yesterday, I hadn't seen this CNN video clip report from the courthouse site immediately following the announced verdict in the Steubenville high school rapists case.

If you haven't seen the clip, you need to. I'm serious. I don't think there's a better window into the worshipful mindset that many, many Americans have towards competitive sports and their sports heroes.

The CNN affiliate reporter on the scene was a young woman by the name of Poppy Harlow. Harlow was inside the courtroom when the verdict was handed down for the two local high school football figures. Here's Candy Crowley's lead-in to Harlow's report....

Crowley: "I cannot imagine...how emotional that must have been sitting in the courtroom."

Harlow: “I’ve never experienced anything like it,” she said on the air. “It’s incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened. These two young men, with promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched, they believed, as their lives fell apart.

One of the young men, Malik Richmond, when that sentence came down, he collapsed. He collapsed into the arms of his attorney, and he said to him, 'my life is over, no one is going to want me now.' "

Rightfully, CNN, Crowley and Harlow have been taking a lot of national criticism for that report. Watch the entire CNN clip to experience the total lack of self-awareness by Crowley and Harlow concerning the 16 year old female victim of the crime. It truly is hard to believe.

That lack of self awareness has something to do with our nation's worshipful attitude toward sports heroes and popular sports figures. In the Steubenville case, what became emotionally important to Poppy Harlow and Candy Crowley was whether these two local athletes, "with promising careers", would see their "lives fall apart" because of a guilty verdict.

"No one will want me now"..was obviously a reference to college football recruiters...who Richmond believed, would now bypass recruiting him because of his conviction. He may be correct.....but then, he should have considered that before he decided to take liberties with a nearly comatose, drunken 16 year old girl.

But what explains the emotional reference point of reporters Harlow and Crowley? What explains their empathy for the two young men's plight? Why all the worry over the future college football prospects of these two young men?

Worship and admiration of sports figures. Yes, it's a worldwide phenomenon....but in America, like with everything else, we have to be better at worshiping our sports figures than anyone else....American exceptionalism and all.

A nation which spent more money on food, drink and sports attire ($11 billion) just in preparation to watch the Super Bowl than we did on Christmas decorations ($6 billion)...is a nation saturated in a culture of competitive sports.

Any casual, non-regular, reader of the blog today should understand that The Reverend knows sports. It isn't as if I come to this topic as a newbee. I played the games, watched the games, knew the players, knew the statistics....admired the stars, for forty years. But no more. Could be because of early-geezer syndrome......could be because competitive sports worship in America today makes me sick.

That brings me to "pursuit of happiness." Americans have the right to make competitive sports worship their life's "pursuit." Absolutely. However, other than young boys and girls learning and experiencing the power of teamwork.....what do competitive sports contribute that's positive for our society? More service industry jobs?

Instead, what the worship of competitive sports actually does is distort our sense of reality, our sense of what's important, what's right and what's wrong. The same emotional pain etched into Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow's faces....the same tender feelings of empathy those ladies felt as they identified with the perpetrators of a crime, rather than it's victim.....came from that unexplainable place in America where worship of our competitive sports stars is a way of life.

Finally, yes, Americans are perfectly entitled to pursue happiness any darn way they choose. And obviously, there are many more destructive hobbies a person can have than being a sports fan. At the same time, sports fanaticism, as witnessed in the CNN report from Steubenville, often warps and distorts our sense of what's important, our sense of what's right and wrong. Sports fanaticism can even lead professional reporters to empathize with rape perpetrators while totally ignoring the rape victim.

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