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Why professional sports mask reality so well

The world of professional sport is coated in sugar. It's an escape for many people to turn on the game and relax, but the game we escape to contains just as many realities as our lives. Leagues don't have much to run from, we coax ourselves into accepting harsh realities.

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When I think about professional sport, I think about hostility. Not between two teams, not a hostile rivalry, but a hostile environment for everyone involved.

The second adjective I have glued to major North American professional sport is masculinity. In a world where many women play various sports professionally, ideas of masculinity are always attached to the women who play.

The last way I would describe professional sport to anyone would be to say it's inclusive; it's far from it.

A former NHL player, one I admit I couldn't stand, wrote an honest piece for the Players Tribune explaining his decision to leave his NHL career behind in favour of his own mental health. Sean Avery was 32 years old when he chose to move on and it wasn't for a recurring physical injury, but for the reasons everyone stops playing organized sport.

It wasn't fun anymore, the money didn't compare to the misery Avery felt trying to piece together his uncertain future. I don't feel sad for Avery due to the bullying he did to other players in locker rooms and voicing his opinion on players' girlfriends by seeking out the media.

He helped end his own career by making himself an undesirable teammate and player, a liability to management. For as long as I can remember, acting out is a way of seeking attention and for Avery, who was desperately searching for consistency and stability, he wasn't getting it from his day job.

Professional sport turns many kids into adults without a backup plan. In 2009, I conducted my own research to figure how what percentage of NHL players on active rosters that year chose junior hockey over an education with the NCAA.

Of the 800 players listed on team websites, 36.6 per cent attended post-secondary education and only 10.8 per cent held a degree. As Avery explained in his essay, he was always looking toward the future whether it was travelling to coach New Zealand or opening a restaurant. He was part of the 89.2 per cent who put all their eggs in one basket and chose a possible NHL career over an education.

'Making it' is what players are all worried about. Avery noted a traditional education ends when a junior player is 16 years old. Players barely have time to be home with their families let alone get time away from hockey for more than 24 hours.

It's a tough, grinding job that elite athletes worked their whole lives toward, but it's not glamorous. In any sport the travel, the hours, and the uncertainty of your career is romanticized by the media to a sickening level. Winning the championship, playing through injury, sticking up for teammates, making a clutch play; all these things are seen as heroic.

They're made into objects of entertainment and dehumanized to a point of no return. Once the impossible is done once, it's expected by the consumers of the sport.

For the last month, Australian golfer Jason Day suffered from vertigo, unable to obtain a diagnosis from doctors. On Friday afternoon of the 115th U.S. Open as he was about to finish his round at Chambers Bay, Day collapsed from dizziness needing a team of medical professionals to help him to his feet.

The FOX broadcast speculated he might have turned his ankle but quickly realized Day was having a much more significant issue when their mics caught him say, "I just can't focus." That is a scary thing to hear from anyone who lay on their back hand draped over face. The discussion revolved around one point: they wished him well, but moreover they wished him a speedy recovery so he could play the weekend as he sat amongst the leaders. This thinking has become all too presupposed from fans to media members.

Day had 24 hours to make a miraculous recovery from the serious symptoms prohibiting him from staying on his feet. He decided he would play Saturday and maintained great position going into Sunday. The narrative from Joe Buck placed Day on a pedestal for playing through vertigo. He used the word heroic to describe Day's decision to play even though he admitted he wasn't feeling 100 per cent.

I am a huge fan of Day and injuries have held him back for the last few seasons, but what Day did was the opposite of heroic. He risked his long term health to play out a tournament that comes around every year. I wouldn't dare say Day should've withdrawn because I don't know how he felt, only he does, but to call him a hero for ignoring his body - that's too far.

Sports fans love the Cinderella story, the impossible becoming the possible, staring adversity in the eye and playing with that broken leg, punctured lung, or concussion anyway. If any player thought of their own safety and long term health, I guarantee they would bow out of a meaningful game if the stigma around being smart didn't mean fans seeing you as weak or soft.

Again, men are supposed to be tough, and according to some a lack of effort in a Women's World Cup game meant you didn't want to mess up your hair. If men have an off-game, they'll get back at it tomorrow and turn it around. If women do, well, they're just not that good, right? The double-standard extends so much further than on-field play.

U.S. Women's National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo has been in the headlines over a domestic abuse case from an incident over a year ago. She, rightfully, was given a lot of heat for this situation but others like Adrian Peterson, Floyd Mayweather, and Ray Rice are demonized only until they step on the field and score a touchdown or step into the ring. Solo will always be followed with a cloud and never thought of in the same way again,

Mayweather is a great boxer before he's a woman beater to put it lightly, Rice and Peterson are elite NFL players before they're abusers. It is incomprehensible the way fans and media create invisible monsters selectively editing the human they idolize on the field, court, rink, or ring.

The romanticism of sports is something that creates such an exclusive club. The men who play the sport know what's best, women just don't get it. The men and women who abuse the family members probably just made a bad choice some would say, but they're still really good at being an athlete!

The pedestal athletes are put on extends all the way to one of the most powerful places in the world. The Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup, the Golden State Warriors won the Larry O'Brien trophy and they're all headed to the White House. Why? Because Ronald Reagan thought it would be great to meet these athletes who reached the highest point of their career, and so it became a tradition.

The President is a busy man, but meeting these athletes who are socially constructed as heroes is something the leader of the U.S. should make time for, right? Of all the things the President has on his plate, shouldn't meeting pro athletes after their championship be a little further down the list?

Athletes are ogled for their fitness, raw talent, and unbelievable skill. Some people are born to play a given sport, but it doesn't constitute them as a hero. It doesn't mean they're great people, it doesn't mean they've made the best choices for themselves, and it doesn't mean they live glamorous lives.

Many would say their lives are lonely and filled with people who like their status. The lure of playing a game for a living has gotten the vast majority of us at one point or another. We build their lives up to be amazing, when in reality many struggle with the choice between living out a dream that turned out to be less than ideal, or facing the reality of turning to a new career they never prepared for.

George Parros (nine seasons) and Ray Whitney (22 seasons) retired from the NHL a month apart. Even though their careers were vastly different, Parros was looking into television and his own clothing company years before he retired from the game. Whitney was in a different position as his career was more successful, but he still struggled with the decision to let his identity go as chronicled in the W series "Hockey Wives."

With all the romanticism associated with professional sport, it sure doesn't seem like much fun to be anxious about the near future. The business runs on "What have you done for me lately?" instead of what you've done in the past.

For Avery, he wiggled his way out of the NHL before he thought he wanted out. He was not the most popular guy in the eyes of anyone he played with or worked with, but he raises valid points about how disenchanting being a professional athlete can be.

Of all the sporting events that bring us together as a community, the world of professional sport is just another reality coated in sugar. It's selective in it's judgement toward people who are just like the ones we escape from when we watch our favourite teams and players. We think the worst is impossible and the best is all there is to believe.

We all need something to hold on to, and for many professional sport is a place where reality doesn't need to live.