West Virginia, lets face it, has a lot of poverty. Many escape this barrier by means of the military or working a dangerous job (oil rigs/mining).
This always make me wonder why I do not see more citizens around here with the aspirations of inner-city kids, or third world country residents of hitting it big with sports. Our turn of the century love of baseball ushered in an entire industry that people longed to be a part of, and many still do.
This rings true in America most with stories of opportunity from such like Ty Cobb:
Our community in Banks County, Ga., where I was born December 18, 1886, was a struggling place. Corn and cotton were subsistence crops for most, and the damage of the Civil War was far from repaired. My own family’s lot was happier. We had status and somehow the idea of staring at the rump of a balky mule while I steered a plow didn’t strike me as fitting work… Playing ball there was a chance to become more than another schoolboy and the son of Professor Cobb.
Rarely ever do you hear about stories like these anymore. The escape from poverty by working your hardest to get into a sport is long gone. I’m not sure if it is complacency, or people no longer willing to run the risk. The Guardian.co.uk ran a great story about tennis, and how difficult it is to find a lass who is competent and beautiful enough to catch the eyes and ears of the sports world to make worth her income:
I actually think that this lack of success reflects rather well on us as a country. Our women players are always finishing their A-Levels or thinking about university as something to fall back on. They seem to have nice normal middle-class existences. They haven’t all come from the frozen Siberian wastes or grim American inner cities, forced to practise by weird domineering fathers who are trying to escape their lives. Our players will lose at tennis because they just haven’t got the hunger – they don’t really need to win – but they’ll almost certainly have better lives as a result.
Attempting to make it in professional sport is hardly what you’d advise a loved one to do unless it’s the only route out of horrendous circumstances. With a nice, comfortable British background, the most a parent is going to say is “Give it a go, darling, but Geography at Exeter’s a great opportunity as well.”
There aren’t enough people whose lives are ghastly enough that they’ll grasp at professional sport with the almost insane tenacity that will give them a chance of success… And, even for the not inconsiderable numbers of Britons who do live in horrible poverty, is sport really the best chance of escape? It might be hard to get into university if you’ve grown up on a violent inner-city estate but surely it’s statistically a piece of cake compared with winning Wimbledon, or even playing for Wimbledon?…
The reason for British sporting mediocrity is not a lack of sports funding or national character; it’s that we’re fortunate enough to have a society where self-betterment is available not only to sporting geniuses.
I hear of the low income that cyclists made before Greg Lemond really started pushing buttons and bringing more sponsors into the game and demanding more money from his teams; all the while cyclists are still not making anywhere near as much as (NFL) football stars, or professional left turn drivers (nascar). Hell, some athlete’s yearly income could sponsor an entire Pro Continental cycling team.
But there are so many countries that are still in poverty and try to make it big with sports.
In Senegal, powerful media images of opportunity in the West transfix the youth of her home village. France is a nation of easily won wealth and luxury. In particular, the adolescents obsess over ‘foot’ (soccer/football). They gather around the sole television in the village to watch Africans playing in premiere league teams, and even on the national team. The African players are not just wealthy, they are portrayed as men who have been accepted by France as members of the nation. The adolescents dream of establishing themselves in French clubs. ‘Foot’ is the only means that they see of escaping poverty, and it defines their desires.
I found an interesting episode of families in India telling their desire of having their children become professional cricketers. This was intense:
A Bad Time to Be in A Bad Spot – The First act of Benny Kauff’s drama is pure triumph. The second act is pure tragedy. His reversal of fortune was, as much as anything, a result of bad timing. Kauff was born into a Ohio coal-mining community in 1890. At age 11, he began the life that seemed all but certain to be his destiny: He went down into the mines. All the men in Kauff’s family were coal miners, and his friends were coal miners, too. For eight years, Kauff spent 12 hours a day in the mines. By late in his teenage years, he was earning around ten cents an hour. According to Kauff, he was nearly killed by falling rock on two separate occasions. Sundays were Kauff’s refuge. On Sundays, and the occasional Saturday afternoon, Kauff could go outside when the sun was still in the sky. To Kauff, sunshine meant baseball. The game was his passion, and by the time Kauff neared age 20, it was the only hope he had of escaping the mines. In 1910, he begged a local low-level minor league…
I hear of people in the peloton being car mechanics, and house painters before striking it big, but what if… What if cycling was a big thing in America… Would this give West Virginian residents another way out of modern-day despair?