Trekking through Italy over the Christmas break, I visited the Coliseum, where an exhibit dedicated to ancient Greek and Roman athletes claimed that in the time of the gladiators and Olympians, athletes where the closest a mortal could get to be a deity.
It seems that we have not changed much at all. Maybe more in the US than England, but society seems to put athletes on a pedestal above the average man.
How many multi-page specials, front cover stories, and television time was dedicated to Johnny Wilkinson after England won the World Cup? Not that I mind seeing that face, but wasn’t there some sort of war in Iraq or other world issues pushed aside to make way for England’s Messiah and the drop goal heard around the country.
Unlike in the UK, US athletes become stars at the University level, student culture at a D-1 school includes getting up at 6 am on a Friday to queue and nab a pair of tickets to a basketball or football match in a venue holding over 10,000 fans that will sell out within 30 minutes.
Often, the US takes this Uni level stardom too far, admitting athletes to schools where they cannot compete academically. Full ride scholarships including all athletic equipment, meals, travel costs, and spending money is provided to those recruited on athletic scholarships.
Additionally, a law was recently passed in Nebraska that will allow the big 12 conference to pay their athletes. This is a far cry from York Uni where athletes must pay to for athletics clubs and all merchandise.
Athletes receiving preferential treatment in Uni, though deserved based on the amount of money sports TV contracts bring in, the pressure they face, and their commitment to represent the school creates a false sense of celebrity for these superstars and their fans.
It is this premature fame that leads to the use of steroids, and has pitchers receiving shots of intense pain killers before they rush out attempt to pitch a shut out. This same false reality leads to preferential treatment of athletes under the law.
Athletes are not only worshipped as gods in modern times, living in a separate world from their adoring fans, who accept the facade that they are physically unbreakable, above the law, and part of a privileged class.