Wait a second. You mean Terrell Owens actually plays football?

Terrell Owens is my favorite actor — wait, professional football player. Same thing! I love to hear about him so much that I almost bought a nifty cap off his personal web site as a daily reminder of my devotion. The embroidered symbol is a wispy “T” overlaying a double-ringed “O” — a must-have, in my opinion, for the serious cap wearers. They have a women’s style in pink with an opening in the back, presumably to accommodate the ponytails that all women have.

There is little mention of the Dallas Cowboys outside of the tell-tale star in the top right corner. Who really cares about the team? Terrell is the team. That’s the point.

I found a link to Terrell’s Myspace web page. He evidently logged in earlier today. With football season over and everything, what’d you expect? There’s a slideshow of his 33rd birthday party — a red-carpet event. Meagan Good of Stomp the Yard and, more importantly, Cousin Skeeter were there. So you know it was huge. There was a great big cake in the shape of a football field to remind him where his fortunes came from.

Although by now, he could write his own ticket. He’s a regular Nicole Richie. Famous for being famous. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen him in football action, but I can tell you what he’s all about. The expensive parties, the alleged suicide attempts, the Desperate Housewives promotion scandal. They’re all part of the “25 million reasons” that he should be alive, right, Kim Etheredge? He just wants to be a celebrity. Don’t we all? He just wants us to care when he moves to L.A. with a former pop-star fashionista girlfriend. If the Beckhams can do it, so can Terrell.

The big-time, overpaid, imbecilic professional athletes have done something horrible to my perception of their respective sports. I love them for their spectacle and their fly rides, but I can’t begin to respect them. These talented players have sold out. Or maybe it’s always been this way and we’ve just recently bought in over our heads.

This really only applies to the “Hollywood sports,” as I call them: football, basketball and baseball. I’m continually dissatisfied with the level to which I am lowered every time I stick around for the postgame show and am forced to meet the athletes who can’t face an interview without saying “110%” or “Booya” or something in that vein. The problem is so bad that I expect the worst without feeling the slightest hope for the best.

When I do find that my favorite “All-Star” quarterback actually has a brain, I’m shocked! I shouldn’t be shocked. With the level of income that some of our friends, like Terrell, are putting up, I would expect them to be geniuses or wizards or something. Some of them can’t even spell “wizard.”

The association of professional athletes with salary, signing bonus and celebrity status has me concerned with the nature of the games themselves. Yet our sports entertainment industry, even as it stains the purity of the sports, sustains the culture. And I’m not taking myself out of that mix. But I question whether, at the level to which this display has risen, it is the sport or the spectacle that keeps us watching.

I remember dropping my jaw in a kind of fantastic disgust when Kyle Turley ripped off the helmet of Damien Robinson after Robinson’s short altercation with Aaron Brooks during the Saints-Jets game in 2001. While I loved it then, I hated it for the exact same reason. It got me asking: Where’s my Rudy? Where are my Hoosiers? These are mere visages of the past, eclipsed by such controversial Athle-brities as Kobe Bryant, Dennis Rodman, and A-Rod. Purity of purpose is all I’m asking for, and these guys make me a little skeptical.

Professional sports demand public attention like movies, music and television do. I get that. There’s no escaping the over-commercialization. The actual act that is being performed — a pass, a run, a kick, a jump — cannot possibly be justified by the incredible rewards given for their execution.

For instance, David Beckham’s contract with the L.A. Galaxy awards $90 for every second that he’s on the field. What? This is no longer just a game. If I were Mr. Beckham, I’d tromp out to the field and take a seat right in the middle of the action. Maybe I’d pick at the grass. I’d do it just to prove a point. We’re no longer watching a game here, we’re watching gold run around the stadium.

As for the pure sports — those with athletes more concerned with the actual sport than the victory dance that they’ll whip out in the end zone — my short list begins with bull riding and ends in ice climbing. I don’t know much about either, but I can respect them for the physical demands that they require and the relatively low recognition that their athletes receive. These athletes perform with little concern as to whether or not their life story will be picked up by Sports Illustrated or, at the very least, Star Magazine.

When I walk into the TD courtyard and see a pick-up game of soccer, football or volleyball, I start to realize why we find sports so attractive in the first place. It’s not about money, recognition and fame; it’s about teamwork, physical expression and accomplishment. There’s aesthetic beauty in the perfectly executed sacrifice bunt or foul shot. These fundamentals can and should be cultivated outside the hyper-material realm in which they have been warped.

If Yale athletes wanted all that muckity-muck, they should have gone to Ohio, UGA or some other draft-happy, professional athlete factory. Honestly, if you really want to be Terrell Owens — or at least get an invite to his birthday bash — you don’t go to Yale to play sports. I’d like to think that our athletes want something more.

Charles Gariepy is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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