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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

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Miller: Sports fans deserve a tech

What extends beyond the game

Last week, Anthony Rendon, Angels third baseman, found himself unintentionally viral. In a spring training media availability session, Rendon was asked about his perspective on baseball. Rendon is known for being blunt, but these most recent comments take blunt to a new level.

“[Baseball’s] never been a top priority for me,” said Rendon. “This is a job. I do this to make a living. My faith, my family come first before this job. So if those things come before it, I’m leaving.”

While the baseball world seemed shocked by Rendon’s comments, he’s said pretty much the exact same thing several times before. 

In 2016, he referred to baseball as “a game and that’s what I’m going to treat it as.”

In 2018, he stated that he wanted to be more of a Christian than he was of a baseball player. 

It might sound silly for Rendon to sound off on his current situation, especially given that he’s in the midst of a fully guaranteed seven year deal paying him approximately $35 million per season. But at the end of the day, Rendon is a person. He lives a very different life than I do; personally, I could never even imagine playing sports beyond an intramural level! Yet no matter how much one likes their career — and no matter how impactful that career might be — it’s completely fair to admit that our work is a secondary or tertiary goal in life.

At the end of the day, any fulfillment coming from work stems from how much happiness we obtain from it. For some, happiness could stem from money (i.e. the paycheck is the sole or by far most important reason to work). For others, the work itself might have inherent value; it could be interesting, giving us pleasure in the act itself. And finally, the work might seem innately valuable, such as that of a first responder, teacher or public interest lawyer. Yet even in those cases, the value of that work has to be measured on an individual level. If a firefighter loves saving lives, even though the work is directed towards someone else, ultimately, the value of that work is judged by how much pleasure/happiness it gives the firefighter. 

For Rendon, it’s clear that the work is solely something he does to take home a paycheck. I can’t quite sympathize with him. He seems to be living the “ideal” life. But I do know that regardless of industry, job, position or salary, work would never be my primary reason to live. 

Unfortunately, especially in athletics, fans and media seem to increasingly love focusing on the personal athlete — not just the hitter/pitcher/linebacker — while seeming to improperly understand their personhood. For example, in the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers are just above .500. In the next 10 days alone, three of their games are on national TV. Now, of course, that makes a lot of business sense since the Lakers have more fans and LA is a massive market. But when talking about the Lakers, much of the focus is on LeBron “Bronny” James Jr. Lebron’s son is playing his first year of college basketball at USC, averaging 5.7 points per game; it’s clear that he’s nowhere near ready to play professional basketball. But rather than focus on Bronny’s current situation (a solid role player with lots of room to grow at the collegiate level and mature as a young man), the focus seems to solely be on his draft position, including any potential situation where he could play alongside his dad. 

Fans love stars, and possibly even more than the game itself, fans love integrating athletes’ personal lives into the game — in a way anthropomorphizing the athlete. 

All of this is great until the fan’s anthropomorphized characterization of the athlete replaces or attempts to diminish the human realities the athlete has to face. 

In basketball, if a player or coach yells at or demeans a referee, the panicking player/coach can receive a technical foul, which has a significantly worse consequence than a common (physical) foul. The goal is to ensure, on the most basic level, that players maintain respect for officials. If respect means anything, it has to supersede points, plays or stats.

I’d argue that America deserves a tech, specifically any of the media or pundits who attacked Rendon or purposefully took his comments out of a proper context. 

Rendon’s comments might be uncomfortable, but they reveal a very honest, vulnerable assessment of his priorities as a Christian dedicated to his family. 

Consider the following,

  1. If you’re Catholic, would you sacrifice meeting Jesus for an “A” on your next test?
  2. If you’re married, would you sacrifice knowing your spouse for $1,000,000?
  3. If you’re a parent, would you sacrifice holding your first born child for a Notre Dame Football national championship?

In my opinion, all these questions have obvious answers, but articulating them is difficult. Rendon may not have done the best job communicating the intricacies of his thoughts. But I have to commend him for his dedication to his beliefs. 

And for the rest of us who continue to criticize Rendon’s order of priorities, while he takes two shots from the freethrow line, maybe standing beyond half court together will allow us to reflect on what matters most.

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