If only the Teacher of the Year received Iverson’s contract
Quick quiz: Who joined the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 22, 2006? I’ll give all of you who only come out of hibernation to read this column a couple seconds. … OK, got it? Good. Now, who is Colorado’s teacher of the year for 2006? A little harder? Interesting contrast, isn’t it?How much is the Denver Nuggets’ new player paid? About $41 million over the next two years, if you don’t include the “luxury tax” the team will have to pay the NBA to pay the man his generous salary. And the teacher of the year? Given the average pay grade for Estes Park where she works, she’ll make half that if she’s there for the next 300 years, more or less.Colorado’s Teacher of the Year is Susan Ryder. What are her skills? She teaches seventh grade Language Arts, that compendium of reading and writing that are the foundation for informed, culturally literate and thinking citizens. Her skill set involves not only pedagogy, but also diplomacy, logic, discipline, creativity, diagnostic skills for learning disabilities and infinite patience in dealing with her charges, who, by their very nature, have a wide variety of abilities and motivation.
Her job isn’t easy. Just ask anyone who knows a teacher, or is one. But she, and others like her, produce the future of this country.The Nuggets’ new player is, for those of you without a television, or who are sports-averse, Allen Iverson. Mr. Iverson’s skills involve placing a ball approximately 9.5 inches in diameter through a hoop 18 inches in diameter fixed 10 feet off the floor, while running up and down a 94-foot-long court and trying to prevent others from doing the same. What he actually produces is a mystery.Is it any wonder that our “sports icons” tend to behave badly? For weeks before Mr. Iverson arrived in Denver, there was intense speculation about him. From the media coverage, one would think that his arrival would solve the national debt, or at least the parsimonious financing of Colorado’s leading research universities. One Denver television station named the last two blizzards after him. He has been interviewed, feted and in general, treated as a person on whom the fate of our society rests. All this adulation will have its effect, but we can look to future bad acts being as perfunctorily waved away as past acts have been. Sports icons, after all, can do no wrong short, perhaps of murder, or an exchange of gunfire in a public place. Then we all wonder how things can have gone so wrong for the former hero. In our consternation, we overlook the fact that people, in general, behave as they have been trained to do.
This adulation, and the concomitant willingness to overlook bad acts, is only one – and not the worst – example of our society’s unhealthy relationship with professional sports. As a culture, we obsess about sports played by others. We identify with teams. When our favorites do not perform, we fantasize. We pay large sums of money to watch play in person, and even larger sums for the privilege of eating stale popcorn while we do so. In the degenerate phase of sports addiction, we move heaven and earth to make sure we are able to watch game after game in the privacy of our homes. Does this make us better people? No. Better citizens? No. Want proof? OK, how many of you sports fans can make a cogent argument in favor of Mark McGwire losing his record because of steroid abuse? Keep those hands up. Now, how many of you can make a cogent argument in favor of Ehud Olmert sitting down formally with Mahmoud Abbas? How many of you can even identify these two? Now, which do you think more important to our country, the disgrace of a major league baseball player, or lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians?
Sports idolatry also interferes mightily with Ms. Ryder’s ability to do her job. It is difficult enough to encourage juvenile students to devote time and effort to their studies in a world rife with modern distractions. Throw in the idea that, if only one is able to dribble, shoot and jamb with verve riches can instantly be yours; and the door is often shut on the hard work that a decent education requires. Ask a teacher you know well, and they’ll tell you about the siren song professional athletes sing.One of the things that describes a society is the people they admire. In America’s youth, we looked to Jefferson, Washington and Adams. They, in turn, to Locke, Hobbs and even Montesquieu. These days, we hang on the words of Allen Iverson. You may judge for yourselves the meaning of that difference.Starting today, Summit County resident Morgan Liddick is writing a weekly Tuesday column. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, comment on this column at http://www.summitdaily.com.
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