The Cruel Truth About All-Star Games

It’s the day after the Super Bowl, and not much seems to be going on in the world of sports. It’s just the first week of February, nearly one month before Major League Baseball’s Spring Training begins. Two months before a Division I basketball program is crowned champion of the NCAA Tournament. It is not time yet to start looking forward to two of the things that sports fans crave. Sports enthusiasts must wait a little longer, and that requires patience. It’s just the first week of February.

In the meantime, it’s quite obvious that sports find itself in the transition phase between its last greatest event, the Super Bowl, and the next. Because once March rolls around, fans will be entertained non-stop and taken on the annual emotional rollercoaster that defines the remainder of the calendar year. If not baseball, it’s March Madness. Once a team cuts down the nets, it’s on to the NHL playoffs and NBA finals. Then there’s always the start of a new NFL season in September, followed by the Fall Classic in October. By then, college football will have just started, and college basketball is soon to follow.

For now, it is the first week of February. That means that games in the four major professional sports take on a deceiving façade where on the field competition gives is joined by the practice of corporate schmoozing and fancy wine and dine tactics. Brace yourself, for the cruel truths behind All-Star games.

Internet and text-messaging fan-votes have destroyed the true purpose of All-Star games. Rather than voting the best players in who deserve to be there, the games have been reduced to popularity contests where players from a certain team, region, or even continent can be selected purely based on the population of a certain location. Take for example, the NBA All-Star game, where citizens of China – a country with over a billion people – voted online for the New Jersey Nets’ Yi Jianlian, a player averaging just 10.5 points per game and 6.2 rebounds. Meanwhile, two of the league’s best players with stats that trump Jianlian’s – Lebron James and Kevin Garnett – started the game on the bench, reduced to merely a spectator’s role.

Similarly, in the NHL, Washington’s league MVP candidate Alex Ovechkin also started this year’s All-Star Game watching from the bench. Why? Because with multiple clicks of a mouse and multiple text messages, fans from one city could vote an infinite number of times for their favorite player on their home team. In Montreal, where the popularity of hockey blows Washington D.C. out of the water, the Canadiens landed four out of the five starting skaters on the ice.

In addition, these games don’t mean very much, if anything. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is played the week after the Super Bowl. Some of the best players are treated like royalty with an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii in order to make celebrity appearances rather than play a football game. Not to mention, the tremendous risk to an athlete participating in these games, where one play can result in serious injury and jeopardize that player’s upcoming season, or possibly his career. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, probably looks foolish right now. A few years ago, Commissioner Bud Selig instituted a marketing ploy that stated “this time it counts,” awarding the winning league of the game home-field advantage in the World Series. But in fact, it hasn’t counted yet. The World Series has not seen a Game 7 – when home-field advantage truly counts – since the advertisement was put out. It also hasn’t increased viewership by trying to make it “count,” when all other leagues maintain their All-Star Games as solely entertainment exhibitions.

Players opt out of participating because of reasons not related to injuries. Since three of the four major sports’ All-Star Games take place in the middle of their respective seasons, players choose not to play because their teams are in the midst of a playoff run and would rather treat the All-Star break as a week’s vacation to relax.

Others are not in the best physical condition due to the demanding schedule of the games they have already played, and therefore, do not try very hard. Consider that each year the NHL and NBA All-Star games have final scores in double and triple digits. Fourteen goals scored by the Eastern Conference? One hundred and forty-four points scored by the West? The games are a showcase of fancy offensive skills instead of a clinic on how to play defense, which by the way is virtually non-existent in these contests.

This weekend the NBA All-Star Game will be the last of the four major sports for 2009. It’s refreshing to know that sports fans won’t be subjected to such a superficial spectacle for at least one more year. After all, it’s just the first week of February.

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