Steve Sarkisian – not alone on Many Levels

Steve SarkisianThere is little more to add to Steve Sarkisian’s situation than the obvious; the former USC coach (he was fired today) is an alcoholic, plain and simple, and he has hit what is obviously the lowest point of his life.

Anyone who views his predicament with arrogance or smugness is a jerk. If you can’t appreciate the long and uphill battle he faces you have no heart. I have had family members who have succumbed to alcoholism. I don’t know the man, but I feel lousy rotten for him.

However, for all of us who love sports, we also need to stop pretending that Mr. Sarkisian is an anomaly. There are many circles in sports where alcohol is a currency, and where alcoholic athletes, coaches and administrators have ducked scrutiny for decades.

We are so concerned about PEDs, painkillers and marijuana in sports today, yet we give alcohol a pass. Without a lot of judgment have you ever known a professional or collegiate athlete, a coach, an executive or someone in an association who was an untreated alcoholic? Let me start by saying that I have across several categories. Let me continue by saying that I have seen them receive “passes” for years, right down to their “closest handlers.” I also have friends who have been asked to give out those “passes,” and we have all seen men and women in sports who have earned multiple DUIs somehow escape the same scrutiny as us mere mortals.

If we want to talk ethics and responsible behavior, we might as well start by understanding that alcohol and athletics often form a very unhealthy alliance. For those on the playing field, alcohol abuse often starts in college – or unfortunately, even in high school. It affects women as well as men. Alcoholism does not know a certain sport, but all sports; from women’s volleyball to swimming to minor league baseball and on and on.

For many people in the stands, alcohol has largely been given a pass. Just this past weekend there was a shooting at the Cowboys – Patriots game. It occurred at a tailgate party. Stupidity was the causative factor; alcohol fueled the fire. Even seen an alcohol infused fight break out at a ballgame? You haven’t? You’re lucky.

We watch the commercials

We watch the commercials for beer and other “adult” beverages and everyone is having a grand old time. No one is ever drunk, no one does anything stupid, no one drives drunk, no one ever gets into trouble, and no one ever kills anyone by getting into motor vehicle accidents.

The kids and even the old people in the liquor commercials are always in control and always handle their business. How does it come to the point where we read about people “in athletics” who drink and who can’t handle their business at all?

There are many Steve Sarkisian’s in athletics right this minute. We all know it; from low level players to owners. They exist because people often look the other way. Sports has made a lot of money for liquor companies and liquor companies have made a lot of money for sports; that’s why they advertise. It would be nice if from time to time these companies would admit that some of their customers should consider switching to club soda.

We can all look at Sarkisian and feel badly for him, but we should not be shocked. The culture that nurtured his descent has been thriving for many decades.

No, I do not suggest anything radical like a ban on advertising in the stadiums or even more distancing between sports and alcohol. It would do little good in any case. What I would like, if possible, is at least some acknowledgement on an ethical basis that the world of sports and the culture of alcohol have been allowed to form a sick (even abusive) relationship for a very long time.

My best to Steve Sarkisian and my most sincere wish for his sobriety and good health. He has many friends out here who are pulling for him.


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