Thoughts from Dr. Joe: It's just a game, folks!

I have this recurring nightmare reflective of my persnickety perspective on American sports. You know who Barabbas is? He's the villainous character in the biblical story of Christ's passion that Pontius Pilate releases instead of Jesus. Barabbas is in my nightmare and it goes like this.

I'm sitting in Starbucks writing the Great American Novel when suddenly I'm commandeered and whisked away to the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, formerly known as La Cañada. (To have some idea of what I'm talking about, you must have read “The Hunger Games.” If not, I suggest you do.)

I am handcuffed, blindfolded and forced to face the Triumphant Sports' Boosters of Panem at Penelope's Café. Incidentally, these boosters in no way parallel the boosters who resided in the city formerly known as La Cañada.

I have been charged with aiding and abetting the pervasive philosophy that sports in America is symptomatic of a society with misplaced values.

“How do you plead, Dr. Joe?” they ask. Well, of course I plead guilty.

They began to feel sorry for me — it must be my puppy-dog eyes. Consequently, the boosters defer my sentence to the discretion of the citizens of Panem, formerly known as La Cañada. The Triumphant asks the citizenry, “Barabbas, or Dr. Joe; whom should I set free?”

The cry of the populace is overwhelming. “Barabbas,” they scream. “Give us Barabbas!”

I guess I'm up the old proverbial creek. I'm then taken to the arena of death, where I compete in gladiatorial combat with Katniss Everdeen, a misplaced citizen from District 12. However, the Triumphant had no idea that I've been through Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training.

I am not a social crusader, but I believe that society is overindulgent relative to sports in America. Sports are the motion of entertainment, the epitome of America. However, anything that possesses such unfathomable greatness is not devoid of problems. The negative aspects are apparent in all levels of sports culture: hyper-competitiveness in youth sports, devastating injuries to young athletes, parents assaulting referees, steroid abuse, athletes being passed through the academic system, poor sportsmanship, athletes learning that violence and aggression are ways to address life's problems, and overinflated salaries. I can go on, but what's the point?

So who's to blame for the problems of steroids that our heroes consume so they can take one for the team? Who creates the spoiled, entitled, pampered athletes who make salaries infinitely beyond their worth? Who condones the irresponsibility of players corrupted by fame and money, players who, because of their celebrity status, walk all over society?

I'm to blame and so are you, and so are the millions of Americans who sit on the sofa or in stadiums each weekend. We feed the gargantuan monster that has become sports in America. Make no mistake about it, we drive the bus. The negative aspects are reflections of America's obsession with sports.

Frankly, sport is the distraction of the middle class. There was a time when America had the most prosperous middle class in the world. However, we are plagued by economic, social, educational and cultural concerns. Sports have become the great placebo that consumes us, desensitizing us to these ills. Instead of focusing on what's important, we concern ourselves with trivialities such as why LeBron James has never been on the cover of a video game. I'm gonna shoot myself!

Problems will continue to impale society; however, the distraction that sports imposes will impede our progress. James Michener said, “An age is called dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.”

Please do not misconstrue my perspectives. I am not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because the psychosocial benefits of the game are immeasurable. All I'm saying is that it's a game; it's just a game.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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