Today’s sports stars fail to set good example for young athletes 

The kids aren’t all right, says Stephen Strasburg. And the top pick of the 2009 MLB draft isn’t happy about it.

Taking in the televised Little League World Series between rehab starts for the Washington Nationals’ Class-A affiliate following Tommy John surgery, Strasburg watched a 12-year-old from New Mexico flip his bat and pose following a three-run homer.

With his team trailing by a run in the fourth inning, the young star could have taken a picture as he stood at home plate and admired the flight of his majestic shot before eventually flipping his bat and walking toward first, then slowly breaking into a jog.

The display was too much to keep Strasburg silent. 

“Pretty sad seeing 12 year olds pimp home runs and throwing all curve balls,” the Nationals star tweeted. “Times have changed ... #LLWS.”

While some have been quick to point out the irony of a 23-year-old who just had elbow surgery criticizing kids for throwing too many curve balls at a young age, others have chimed in and agreed on the issue of sportsmanship among kids.

More specifically, they have agreed upon the lack of proper examples being set by today’s professionals.

An ESPN “SportsNation” poll recently asked fans to evaluate the sportsmanship example set by today’s MLB players, against those who played 50 years ago.

The results were not kind to the modern players.

A whopping 62 percent of the respondents said that MLB players’ “conduct and sportsmanship are significantly worse” today, while just 38 percent said things aren’t any worse among today’s players, but “we’re just more aware of the problems.”

Sure. And the American economy isn’t worse today than it was in the expansion of 1960s. We’re just more aware of the debt.

How can one even begin to dispute the notion that today’s arrogant, self-centered, me-first, “SportsCenter”-highlight-inducing pros are setting poor examples for their young fans to follow?

And just because it happened to be Strasburg commenting on a 12-year-old poser at home plate, don’t think that the problem is exclusive to baseball. Anyone ever see Steve Largent pull a Sharpie out of his sock to autograph a football after a touchdown? Me neither. Did Cliff Branch ever pull the end zone pylon out of the ground and “putt” the football into an imaginary cup after torching another DB with the speed of a mere mortal? Nope.

But we have all seen Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson/Ochocinco pull those stunts as part of the self-glorification of the digital age. Anything to get on a poster. Or a highlight package. Or on YouTube.

How about the NBA? Did Elgin Baylor or Jerry West ever pose with their shooting hands in the air, before chest-bumping and pounding body-blows at one another’s midsections after clutch outside shots in the NBA Finals, as Dwayne Wade and LeBron James did against the Dallas Mavericks in June?

And we won’t even get into the “conduct” aspect of the ESPN poll. A simple look at the police blotter in most major cities will tell us all we need to know about the example these guys set personally.

Sure, hot-dogging isn’t exactly a new fad, and there were plenty of self-promoters “back in the day,” but today’s rosters are clearly packed with a much higher percentage of egomaniacal, team-second players willing to sacrifice team goals for personal glory than ever before.

Combined with the technological advances that allow fans to view their “heroes” in freeze-frame shame as often as they’d like, through YouTube, 24-hour highlight channels, DVRs, smartphones, etc., young players can’t help being hit in the face with poor displays of sportsmanship in class.

Strasburg was right to speak out on the impact today’s athletes have on tomorrow’s. Let’s hope more of them feel the same way.

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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