In fact, before the decision was even made public, the New Yorker magazine published an article titled, “LeBron to Announce Decision at United Nations.” In this satirical piece, attention is drawn to the nationally televised announcement of LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland to “take his talents to South Beach.” The mocking piece highlights the perceived grandiose and self-serving manner that the decision was announced.
Since the decision to return to Cleveland was made public, there have been many articles written about the art of forgiveness, about second chances, and about growing up and maturing. Even fellow athletes have their own thoughts on the return. The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, shared his thoughts with Time magazine. He referenced the Thomas Wolfe novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” by noting that when people leave their hometown to pursue other interests and experiences, the hometown does not remain static. Clearly, this reference couldn’t be truer than here in Cleveland. We are not the same. We are better. Our city has seen growth and improvements like never in our history despite not having enjoyed a sports championship in 50 years.
But there is no denying that we are also a passionate sports town. As a psychologist who has worked with our professional athletes, as they struggle with many of their own personal battles, and as a product of a family of die-hard Cleveland sports enthusiasts, I offer my own perspective.
As passionate and committed Cleveland sports fans, we long for the feeling of a championship team in our town. What would it feel like to say we are from Cleveland, the hometown of the Super Bowl champs, the winners of the World Series or the NBA champions? What would be different for us? The “us” as a city would be economically better, our reputation as a sports town would be better, and our beautiful city would have a strong light shining on it. We would have cameras and reporters sharing the story of Cleveland. And personally each of us would feel proud as we connect ourselves to that light.
But how would our personal lives differ? Would a championship lighten our financial struggles, make a difference in healing our physical or emotional pain? Would a championship inspire us to be better human beings?
I would argue that our passion and commitment to sports is a valuable distraction from our day-to-day lives. It gives us brief respite periods from our own struggles and allows us to “play” and to “enjoy.” Our professional athletes on the field can give us great joy and pride. We embrace them and feel connected to them. Through sports and our athletes, we have the opportunity to feel part of something bigger than ourselves and our own lives. We admire them and are in awe of the many physical talents they possess. But should we elevate them to the status of hero and king?
Heroes should inspire us. They should model for us a path to making a difference in this world. Most athletes who I work with would say they don’t want to be considered heroes or held to a standard that is not realistic because, outside of the sport, they are human. They make mistakes and they struggle with many of the same personal issues that we confront. Let’s be honest — would any of us want our worst mistakes or errors in judgment to be on the front page of the paper?
Maybe, we as fans should examine our need to turn athletes into heroes who are deserving of parades filled with adoration and pleas for their loyalty and attention. Perhaps we should be examining ourselves and asking, “Why does the ability and skill to hit a baseball, sink a basketball or score a touchdown stir more passion and interest in us than the ability to raise money to feed the poor, or the creativity to teach, the selflessness of some to donate not from their surplus or the courage to stand for what is right and not what is popular?”
Instead of focusing on LeBron and his motivation, his personality, and his character, perhaps we should examine ourselves as fans. Athletes simply by virtue of their physical talents should not become our heroes or kings to be worshipped with roller coasters named after them or massive billboards. Rather, we should ask ourselves did they make a difference in the lives of others through time and talent and selfless giving? It is those individuals who deserve parades, billboards, awards, and our admiration.
LeBron may be coming back to Cleveland as a different man but he is also coming home to a different home. We have proven that we are resilient and strong. We continue to thrive despite the relocation of a sports team, political corruption, and ongoing economic challenges. Our city stays strong, filled with amazing people who work tirelessly to advocate and promote our city. The efforts of so many have resulted in the revitalization of a city we love. In Cleveland, Ohio, we understand the words loyalty, commitment, and philanthropy.
Our athletes entertain us on the field and the court, but those with genuine talents inspire us.
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