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FLETCHER: There's no pleasing today's sports fan

Opinion column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Glory days, how they pass you by. Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye.

Bruce Springsteen

(Full disclosure: I write the following fully aware that I’m speaking as much to myself as I am other more outspoken sports “fans.”)

It was inevitable.

The University of Georgia loses a close, hard-fought, down-to-the-last-second showdown with Clemson on the opening day of the college football season, and the next day the squawks start: “Georgia will never win with Mark Richt as head coach.” “That new defense just isn’t working out for the Dawgs.” “Mike Bobo needs to go back to Thomasville.”

The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, many experts’ preseason favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, stumble out of the gate, losing to New Orleans and Miami, and the chorus starts up: “You can forget the Super Bowl, the Falcons won’t even make the playoffs.” “Give a guy like (Matt) Ryan all that money, and he immediately gets lazy and starts stinking up the field.” “The state of Georgia’s wasting all that money on a new stadium for this team?”

Frustration over losses is an understandable part of being a sports fan. But lately I’ve read/heard these comments: “The Braves should have clinched their division weeks ago … looks like three-and-out in the playoffs.” “This team needs a hitting coach.” “Fredi Gonzalez will never be Bobby Cox, who wasn’t that great a manager himself.”

Such is the life of the high-profile athlete/coach in 24-hour, all-sports, all-the-time America. No matter how successful a team or individual athlete is, it’s never going to be good enough. That 25-game winner who won the Cy Young award in a landslide? He choked in game seven of the Series. The $20 million-a-year five-time MVP who averaged 32 points a game during the NBA season? He’s won only two championship rings and never comes through in the clutch.

Even the college kids aren’t immune.

The sports pages are full of stories about disgruntled fans who’ve castigated and even threatened star athletes whose fumble in the fourth quarter cost State U a conference game and dropped the team out of the Top 5 in the latest polls. Never mind that said star athlete is an 18-year-old kid only a few months removed from high school.

I know, I know. Sports are a big part of our lives, one of the most popular forms of entertainment in America these days. And in an era when the average frustrated former athlete is struggling just to pay his bills, anything less than perfection from someone who’s sitting fat on a multimillion-dollar-a-year contract is an outrage.

A perfect example of the modern-day sports fans’ dilemma is playing out at Turner Field in Atlanta. Broadcasters try to evoke sympathy for Braves players Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton because they can’t rediscover their hitting stroke no matter how hard they work, and — team broadcasters point out on an almost daily basis — no one works harder than these two guys. You see both struggling to return to the form that made them stars in the game, and you buy into that sympathy bit … until you realize that each is making in excess of $15 million to hit .180. And, as I so often tell my family (who increasingly roll their eyes and shake their heads sadly), I could hit .180.

I mentioned before that criticism of today’s pampered and/or high-paid athlete is inevitable. But our constant bickering about what is simply today’s reality actually serves only one purpose. It keeps us, as fans, from enjoying the sports that we claim we love. We quit marveling at the amazing skills of men who can throw a baseball 100 mph, who can catch footballs while running a 4.2 40 and who can gain 1,500 yards rushing for our alma mater while maintaining a 3.7 GPA.

That’s sad. But what’s sadder still is that by finding only fault with the athletes and coaches in our favorite sports, we diminish what made us fall in love with the games in the first place.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.