With January come and gone, we should take a look back at the sports year that passed us by and at the truly important things we can take from sports, both professional and amateur.
The best place to start is mid-October, traditionally the pinnacle of American sports and seemingly no disappointment this past year. The White Sox won the World Series for the first time in 88 years, the NFL got underway without a hitch, and professional hockey made its triumphant return to a rink near you.
But there was something different this year. This time, the mid-October sports scene was dominated by the NBA and its new progressive dress code. It was one of the most brilliant marketing ploys by one of the most ingenious commissioners in professional sports. Commissioner David Stern’s introduction of the NBA’s plan for a new dress code was so perfectly timed and just controversial enough that it overtook every other major sports story going on at the time and created the largest preseason hype in years.
Stern and his crack team of experts decided that they were going to try and “clean up” the image of the league by forcing players to dress business casual almost until they stepped on the court. This in turn upset many players who have staked their reputation on representing an image that is anything but business casual, such as Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. ESPN and every other sports news media outlet ate this controversy up, hanging on every word coming out of the league offices in New York and hoping for aggressive sound bites from disgruntled players. The hype was there. Basketball season had arrived. The NBA rode this wave of popularity all the way to opening day on Nov. 1. But something was missed. Something very important was missed. I missed it. You probably missed it. Just about everyone who was not directly involved in bringing it about missed it. Hell, eBay even missed it.
“It” is the NBA Cares program. The league’s new global outreach initiative promised to raise and contribute $100 million for charity, donate more than a million hours of hands-on volunteer service to communities worldwide, and build more than 100 places where kids can learn and play during the next five years. This was the NBA finally realizing how much impact its players have across the globe and using that influence to further good causes.
It seems as if this would be something that the NBA would want to make public. But from the effort that the league put out to publicize the NBA Cares program, it was clear that this was a superficial attempt. The league first introduced the NBA Cares program on Oct. 18, the day after the new dress code was announced. There is no possible way that the media-savvy Stern could have overlooked the fact that the dress-code issue would far outshine the volunteer outreach program. Even though the NBA does care, the top brass was clearly more concerned with ratings.
Luckily for us here at Yale, we don’t have to worry about ratings for our sports teams. We don’t have to create media hype before the start of every sports season. We don’t have to change our uniforms every three years to keep jersey sales up. We aren’t the NBA. We aren’t even USC. And that’s okay, because we can focus on things as important as our own community outreach programs.
And because of that, we should look back to the holidays and recognize our sports teams and our athletic department for the job they do helping the less fortunate community here in New Haven.
The Yale Athletic Department has set up a program where each sports team is given a profile of an underprivileged family from the surrounding area. Each team must then raise money to buy gifts for the family that they would not be able to afford for themselves. These gifts are then wrapped by the teams and given to the Athletic Department to pass on to each family. The players never get to meet the family members, but they are not worried about that.
“We didn’t do it for the thanks. We just wanted to give our family the best Christmas they have ever had,” men’s hockey captain Christian Jensen ’06 said. This was the sentiment of most teams who seemed to truly enjoy going out shopping for their families.
Let’s make it all of our belated New Year’s resolutions to focus more of our attention on causes like these, no matter how big or small, from pro sports to the college ranks. It’s our responsibility to let people know about the good that’s being done, and to make sure that business casual does not outshine the spirit of charity.
Brian Belsky is a junior in Silliman College and a member of the men’s lacrosse team.