Kenny Rogers’ Incident Symptomatic of Times

Much has been made of that videotaped tirade of Texas Rangers’ pitcher Kenny Rogers in which he shoved two cameramen – one of whom was hospitalized briefly. Rogers was subsequently suspended for 20 games and fined $50,000 by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig – subject to an appeal by the players’ union. The perfunctory apology has already been made, although Rogers is still not ready for his close-up.

You’d think no one had seen it coming. The wonder is that it isn’t a daily occurrence. Boorish behavior is. So is the uneasy proximity that is the odd, often testy mix of players and media.

Not unlike most disagreements and controversies, this one has two sides.

Both the players and media are at fault – although more blame obviously should be showered on the shover than on the shovee.

Free-agency leverage and television riches have spawned the era of the obscenely rich, obsequiously pampered professional athlete/entertainer. And too many of these individuals – especially in football and basketball – have been fawned over, lionized and enabled by a sports-celebrity culture since high school.

For many, it’s hardly a reach to become self-important and insufferable – yet forced to interact with those who lead such inglorious lives. Lives that necessarily entail queuing up for clichéd quote crumbs as if the interviewee were somebody truly important. It’s not a dynamic that begets respect.

Where else in America’s societal strata would you find such an empathy-challenged, combustible pairing as players and media? Those making seven and eight-figure annual salaries being chronicled and judged by those who don’t come close? Being criticized by those who never played well, if at all, the game they now over-cover – up close and too personal.

For their part, the media have never been more ubiquitous or intrusive. From beat reporters and in-your-face photographers to freelancers and the myriad of cable-outlet hucksters. Players, albeit rich and famous, are commodities – and somebody’s 24-7 target.

But it’s much more than the media’s sheer quantity and pervasiveness. In a bygone era, it was not unusual for local scribes to earn the moniker of “homer” — and sports departments of daily newspapers the sobriquet of “toy departments.” Now, everything is fair, so to speak, game. On the field, off the field — in the locker room, in a night club, in a courtroom, at large.

Imagine the Babe Ruth coverage by modern saturation standards.

But the media — whether probing, provoking or prying, whether astute, stupid or sycophantic – are an integral part of the business of the games athletes play for pay. Like them or not, the media are a continuous loop of constant free publicity. Game stories, sidebars, commentary, statistics, standings, odds, point spreads, injury reports. Daily, around-the-clock coverage that promotes the games, the leagues, the franchises and the players. The sort of gratis ink other industries can only salivate over.

What professional baseball, basketball and football players should do is look to NASCAR for guidance. To wit: Never take your fan base for granted. Remember that being overpaid does not make you bigger than your sport. And your sport would not be in a position to overpay you were it not for media, sponsors and fans.

NASCAR drivers know that it takes more than skilled driving and a talented crew to separate them from garden variety gear heads with lots of speeding tickets.

In addition to his anger management classes, Kenny Rogers should be made to take notes on NASCAR and at least act like he realizes how lucky he is.

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