I came across two stories that represent the best and worst in sports. One deals with winning at all cost, even if that means using illegal drugs, the other shows how sports can bring respect, and help people come together.

I start with my questions, then you are free to read as much of the rest of my post as you wish.  🙂

Do you think sports activities have an overall positive (teaching teamwork), or negative (do whatever it takes to win) effect on society?

Which sports star(s) do you think is a good role model?

(Also in coming attractions the theme of my Bible Study post, hopefully up by Wednesday night, or Thursday, will be on ” Temptation”.  Any suggestions on Bible verses to discuss will be appreciated.)

1) How sports can be a force for positive change.

As a result of war thousands of young men in Sierra Leone and Liberia have lost limbs.  In wealthier countries, like the US, amputees have access to resources that will lead to living normal lives.  In war torn countries like Liberia their prospects are much less encouraging.

Amputee football(soccer) is giving some of these young men respect, and hope they can face a better future.

From an article in the Guardian Steve Bloomfield:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2010/jan/10/liberia-amputee-football

“Before they play, they pray. A dozen men, all missing a limb, lean on crutches and bow their heads. Shouts from a nearby football match and the sound of cars passing on the road beside us fill the air. The coach mutters an “amen” and the men lift their heads and begin warming-up. They move on their crutches with grace, dribbling around cones at pace, using the inside and outside of the foot.

A premier league team – the Invincible Eleven, for whom Liberia‘s most famous footballer, George Weah, formerly of Milan and Chelsea, used to play – are training on this patch of sandy scrubland by the side of a main road. But the handful of passers-by who stop and watch are more interested in the men on crutches who call themselves the champions of Africa.”

“Part of Taylor’s legacy is the thousands of young men in both Sierra Leone and Liberia who are missing limbs. His Sierra Leonean rebels used to chop off arms and legs of men who refused to sign up. In Liberia the amputees tended to be people wounded in battle who couldn’t find a doctor in time to save their limb.

Outside every shopping centre in Monrovia, a crumbling city with pockets of affluence, there are amputees begging for change. One of them is Prince Chea, although he’d prefer it if you call him Samuel Eto’o. “I play almost like him,” he says with a touch of modesty. Like so many Liberian teenagers, “Eto’o” had dreamed of becoming a professional footballer but he lost his right leg when he was hit by a mortar in 2001. He has no job and little chance of ever finding one. But he still has football. “People know me now,” he says.

Eto’o plays centre-forward in Liberia’s national side, which won the second All-African Amputee Football Championship in 2008. The team had been runners-up the year before in Sierra Leone, where five nations competed for the title. Although 2009’s World Cup was cancelled – funding for amputee football across the world is still hard to come by – Eto’o’s dreams of becoming a football star are still very much alive.”

“Playing amputee football had been “like psychological counselling”, he says. “Before we played most of us never accepted our condition. Now we accept it.”

“Their warm-up has finished and a training match is about to start. Eto’o lines up on one side while two other global stars are on the opposition. Everyone calls Festus Harrison Kaká. Unlike his team-mates, Kaká has been playing on one leg for most of his life – he lost his left leg when he was two. He won the player of the tournament award at the All African Championships and it’s not hard to see why. Kaká’s movement is by far the most graceful in the team. Running at pace towards the corner, he suddenly plants one crutch in the sand and swings 270 degrees, taking the ball with him. The defender trips over his own crutches and Kaká steams towards goal.

And then there is Drogba. Moses Koli, as his mother called him, was one of Taylor’s child soldiers. He signed up when he was 14 after “the enemy” destroyed his village. Drogba is short, no more than five foot, but he puffs out his chest when he talks about the war.

“I was a soldier. I used to go to the front line.” He killed “plenty of people”, he says. “It was not good but you have to.” Like Myers, Drogba was injured in battle. A doctor could have patched his leg up but it would have been several weeks before he could get to one. He doesn’t have any regrets though. He just says “It’s what happened.”

His team-mates call him Drogba because he scores goals. “I will score two today,” he says just before the match starts. Five minutes later, he taps one in from a yard out. A few minutes after that he pokes home a cross.

Drogba swings on his crutches in an elaborate celebration, then looks over at me with a “told-you-so” grin on his face as his team-mates – both former rebels and former victims – hop over to embrace him.”

2) The bad news.

American baseball player Mark McGwire, one of the best players of his era, has admitted he took illegal performance enhancing drugs, steroids, during his career.

Here is a link to an article in the New York Times, by Tyler Kepner, about McGwire’s admission:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/sports/baseball/12mcgwire.html?ref=baseball

There isn’t a sport I can think of that has not been touch by the specter of performance enhancing drug use.  Since we live in a drug culture why should we expect our athletes to be any different from the rest of us.  I won’t bore you with another anti-drug rant, which you can read here.

It is still very disappointing to keep reading about yet another sports “hero” using drugs, cheating, and taking part in some immoral activity.  It is hard to keep from becoming too cynical, and accepting, of breaking rules.  That all that counts is winning, even if that means cheating.

I do sense some recognition by younger athletes of the dangerous of performance enhancing drugs, but as long as the rewards are great enough some will find a way to use them.

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