Ezinne, I don’t know how much of a sports fan you are, so I want to address your story from the perspective of sports governing bodies, fans, and the athletes themselves.*

First, I agree that racism can seep into just about anything. Retired tennis star James Blake got tackled and arrested outside a Manhattan hotel during the US OPen. Thabo Sefalosha, an innocent observer, got his leg broken and season ended by police breaking up a big fight in front of a New York night club. But that doesn’t mean all outcomes in sports scandals fall simply along racial lines.

Look at what happened to some of history’s greatest athletes who committed various types of offenses:

Shoeless Joe Jackson (suspected of fixing the 1919 World Series): banned for life

Pete Rose (gambling) banned for life, denied Hall of Fame

Muhammad Ali (draft evasion) resumed career, world champion, American legend

Lance Armstrong (doping) lifetime ban, disqualification of results, lost prize money and massive endorsement deals

Magic Johnson (infidelity) champion for AID movement, business mogul, American hero

Mark McGuire (doping) short suspension, still in baseball, denied Hall of Fame

Sammy Sosa (doping) retired before allegations were proven, denied Hall of Fame

Barry Bonds (Balco doping scandal, perjury) 2 years probation, 30 days house arrest, denied Hall of Fame

Marion Jones (Balco doping scandal, check fraud) lost medals, endorsements, eventually got six months in jail

Kobe Bryant (rape case, dropped, civil case) some bad press, world wide celebrity, billionaire

Other sports:

Michael Vick (dog fights) prision and return to the NFL

Too many athletes to list (domestic abuse) wrist slaps, continued careers

Other tennis players:

Wayne Odesnik (doping) 15 year ban for 29 year old player, ripped by peers

Richard Gasquet (doping) 2 year suspension, back on circuit

Petr Korda (doping) banned, stripped of points and prize money, suspended 12 months

Victor Troicki (doping) 1 year ban, back on circuit

There is little consistency in the punishment, (especially if someone has the money for a top legal team), nor is there a rhyme or reason to where each athlete’s life ends up. But corrupt sports governing bodies are far more concerned with the idea that their game could be fixed, than any damage the athletes do to their own bodies, or the bodies of the people around them.

For brief moments, we come together as a city, a state, a nation, even an entire world, to put aside our differences, cheer for our team, and experience the roller coaster of emotions that can’t be find in any other human endeavor. It doesn’t end poverty, injustice and intolerance, but it is a breath of grace that we can imagine a world where these concerns no longer exist.

While we can argue cynically that all of these professional athletes are pampered millionaires, they are doing something for society that no one else can do. Not politicians, preachers, business tycoons, celebrities, scientists, soldiers or sex workers.

Maybe I’m being painfully naive, but in sports, the only color that matters is the jersey, or the medal placed around an athlete’s neck.

In spite of the scandals and corporate scams, sports is one of the few things in this world that thrills us to our soul, inspires our young people and gives us faith that talent and hard work can still make dreams come true.

We are witness to the highest levels of human performance, where the limits of pain and courage under pressure are tested and bested by the greats. There is an awe and a majesty when you are privileged enough to witness a performance that seems to defy human limitations. It is as close to having a religious experience as many people will ever have.

I love Magic and Lebron because they are the greatest all-around players in the history of modern basketball, doing everything to help the team win besides just scoring, and because they made their teammates better, not because of their skin color.

I love Stephen Curry because he is doing things with a basketball that no human being has ever done from beyond the 3-point arc, not because he’s a light-skinned black guy, or because he has a smoking hot mom.

I love Russell Westbrook because he plays with an intensity and fire and non-stop energy that was only matched by 23-year-old Lebron AND because he played for UCLA (Go Bruins!), not because of his skin color.

I loved Jerry West and Elgin Baylor because of their basketball genius and because they wore the purple and gold of my Lakers, not because of their skin color.

I hate players who show no respect for the game: the cheap shot artists, who are willing to hurt other players or incite a fight in order to take the opponent’s star player out of the game; the floppers, who pretend to be injured in the hopes of drawing a penalty against the opposition; and, the whiners, who badger the refs constantly, trying to get an edge with the calls.

What they do is cheapen the game, because they are saying “I’m not good enough to compete with you on the field, so I will try to bring you back down to my level through cheating.” These offenders take away the very thing the makes sports a life altering activity.

In those cases, not only does skin color not matter, even the jersey color doesn’t matter.

I hate James Harden, because he doesn’t respect the sport of basketball. His offense is based on creating contact to force the refs to make a call, and his defense is based on avoiding contact because he doesn’t want to put out the energy to help his team. It has nothing to do with his skin color, the beard or the dumb faux hawk.

I hate Luis Suarez because he bites players on the soccer pitch and then pretends they injured his teeth, not because of his skin color.

And I hated Bird, McHale, Parrish, Johnson and Ainge because of one color and one color only — green. (Suck it, Celtics!)

In spite of the PR smokescreen put up by Sharapova, a suspension that could end her career is the most horrifying prospect an athlete can face.

If you never played a sport at an elite level, you will never understand what it means to leave the game. Ending the dream that consumed you for your entire life is a traumatic experience. If it’s because of age and failing skills, it is a form of death, as the foundation of your childhood, teenage and early adult years disintegrates, and your entire identity is erased. If your career is cut short by injuries or suspension, you will be talking to ghosts for the rest of your life.

At 17, Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon, beating Serena Williams in one of the most stunning upsets in history. At age 18, she reached number 1 in the world, during a rare period when women’s tennis was incredibly competitive (Williams sisters, Kim Cljisters, Justine Henin and Lindsey Davenport were all ranked #1 in the world at one point and all playing at a high level)

By age 20, she ruined her shoulder and dropped out of the top 5. She would never be able to serve consistently well again. Without the ability to stretch the shoulder into certain positions, she could no longer put enough topspin on her second serve and it became a huge weakness.

At age 22, she suffered a second shoulder injury, had surgery and missed ten months. Her career was in jeopardy.

At age 25, she returned to #1 in the world, in spite of a serve that often failed her, by becoming one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history. She goes into every match knowing she will lose her own serve often, because of her shaky serve, yet somehow breaks her opponent so often it doesn’t matter.

At age 26, she had her third shoulder injury, missing five months.

At age 27, she came back again, and won the French Open for her fifth Major title.

At age 29, she tested positively for meldonium, a drug that was banned on January 1, 2016.

Does this woman deserve to be crucified, based on one stupid decision she and her trainers made in 2016, while completely ignoring her historic athletic achievements during the preceding thirteen years when she was competing legally? All the while with a physical handicap that would have ruined any other player?

I’ll tell you one person who is sad to see her go, and that’s Serena. Serena’s one weakness is getting bored when she plays against most players. Sharapova is one of a very small group of opponents who actually inspire Williams to play her best. Women’s tennis is a much sadder and competitively desolate world without her.

End of rant in response to rant.

Peace.

*As someone who dedicated over ten years of his life, training 4–6 hours a day, and totally consumed with the journey to climb the rankings of professional tennis, I have a little first-hand experience in this area.

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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