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Sports: Let's Talk About Influence
Philip Schiavoni
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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In the movie The Sandlot, Scotty Smalls sneaks a Babe Ruth autographed baseball out of his house so that he and his friends can play some backyard ball. When they lose the ball, Smalls informs his friends that it was autographed by some Babe Ruth person, even asking, "Who is she?"

Well, if you know the clip, you know his buddies respond that he is:

"The Sultan of Swat"

"The King of Crash"

"The Colossus of Clout"

"The Colossus of Clout"

"THE GREAT BAMBINO!"

Now, maybe you aren't as clueless as Smalls and you know who Babe Ruth is. But the humor here plays off the fact that everyone knows who Babe Ruth is.

And it's becoming apparent that everyone knows that sports and sports figures play a similar, yet even larger role in our current culture. In the same way that you can't enter a retail store without there being a holiday you just need to buy something for (I'm looking at you Wal-Mart and your Christmas displays going up before Halloween!), we also can't go a week now without a major sporting event or sports newsmaker impacting us in some way or another.

A few examples from recent sports culture:

Golfer Tiger Woods: famous for golf; infamous for adultery.

Cyclist Lance Armstrong: famous for being cycling's Babe Ruth and being the backbone to Livestrong; infamous for cheating, lying, and bullying.

Baseball player Ryan Braun, a young perennial MVP candidate who beat the system … once; but suspended for the 2013 season for using performance enhancing drugs and lying about it.

Football player Richie Incognito, who made the NFL Pro Bowl last season; became enmeshed in an ugly scandal of bigoted harassment of a teammate.

So what? A bunch of millionaires are getting themselves in trouble? How does that affect me?

When I was finishing 11th grade, I was fortunate enough to play on a State Championship baseball team. I didn't start, but I stole a ton of bases and scored a bunch of runs. And I received the same gold medal that our soon-to-be-minor-league-shortstop had hung around his neck that day. We got paraded around the town on top of a fire truck. Seven year olds and seventy year olds not only knew my name, they even told me my stats as I autographed their T-shirts and hats. It's hands down one of the highlights of my entire life. We put tiny Palmyra, Pennsylvania, on the map. And apparently gained Coca-Cola's attention.

When we got back to school that fall, we now had Coca-Cola vending machines, a Coca-Cola sponsored banner congratulating us hanging in our cafeteria, and congruent advertisements around the school and the ball fields.

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