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ISSUE 119 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/11/2005

Proffesor proffers sports opinions

By Ryan Maus
Sports Editor

Friday, November 11, 2005

When St. Olaf played host to the Second International Conference on Sports and Religion in late October, not only did it provide a forum for open discussion about issues pertaining to these two topics, it also gathered many of the greatest sporting minds in America in one place.

One of those minds was University of Central Florida history professor and sports historian Richard C. Crepeau. Crepeau, a Minnesota native, pens a bi-weekly online column about current events in the sports world and has also authored several books and articles pertaining to athletics. The Messenger sat down with Professor Crepeau at the conference to gauge his opinion on a variety of topics.

Q: What interests you about the combination of these two disciplines – sport and religion?

A: Over the last five or six years, I’ve been encountering religion popping into sport more and more often. You see more of the evangelical aspects of athletes involved. I started reading more and more about it. I’ve also known [author and conference speaker] Jack Higgs for a long time, and he and I talk a lot about these types of issues. I’ve sort of drifted into it (as I’ve drifted into a lot of other things) but that’s where the interest developed.

Q: What topics at this conference have you found particularly intriguing?

A: I found the session on gene doping and genetic modification very interesting. I’m interested in these topics and things like steroids; I want to see where stuff like this is going. All the questions that were raised during that session are things that I think about.

I think my position on this issue is very unorthodox, at least in this country. I feel that you need to just open this up and let go where it goes. The notion of performance enhancement is such a blurred notion – you can’t really define what “is” and what “isn’t.” For example, if you watch an NFL game you might hear an announcer say that a player “took the needle” in order to play in that day’s game. I find that to be a very interesting term. Isn’t that technically “performance enhancing”? Isn’t anything you do in terms of treating injury performance enhancing? If you take a substance specifically to play in spite of a previously-debilitating injury, isn’t that a performance enhancing drug? Yet the types of things these people are taking are perfectly legal. I think that line is so blurred that it is a problem.

If you look at the way the IOC [International Olympic Committee] deals with drugs, they are so extreme. You have people getting suspended for years just for taking a cough medicine, and that’s absurd! There has to be a better place to draw a line, if in fact you need to draw such a line. My feeling is that perhaps you don’t draw that line at all – you just let it go where it is going to go.

Q: If the sporting world took this hands-off approach, would it ever end?

A: I think if you prevent people from having to be secretive about this sort of thing, you force them to make judgments about what they will and won’t take; you force them to evaluate the potential risks. Right now [athletes] take substances they normally wouldn’t take because they think the “other guy” is using them to get a leg up. Rather than using a punishment-based prevention approach, we need to institute an education-based one.

Even if we created two separate leagues (as was suggested at a conference I attended in Sweden) – one where every kind of performance-enhancing substance is banned and one everything was allowed – more fans would still turn out to see the “best” players perform, regardless of whether or not they are considered “natural.”

Q: What’s your opinion on the Minnesota Vikings’ recent “love boat” scandal?

A: I know for a fact that this sort of thing goes on all the time in professional sports. Michael Jordan has his limo that would pick him up in Orlando before picking up the girls… This was common knowledge. A lot of this goes on all the time in professional sports. These [Vikings] were just incredibly stupid in getting caught.

Q: Stadium financing in Minnesota is also a hot topic. Who do you think should finance these structures?

A: Basically, I think the team should pay for stadiums. I don’t object to a cost share agreement [between the team and local government], but I think then profits should also be shared. If the community puts up 40% of the money, they should reap 40% of the profits [from the stadium]; if they put up all the money, then they should get all the benefits, at least until that investment is paid back.

I also don’t think that building a new stadium is necessarily the economic boom that some teams claim they are. In some cities, building a stadium only serves to redirect the entertainment dollar, not create more revenue. The Twin Cities may or may not be one of those cities – a new stadium for the Minnesota Gopher football team seems to makes sense, as they should have never been moved off campus in the first place, but it’s pretty obvious that the Vikings do not need a brand new stadium.

Q: What’s your general take on the sporting landscape in America today? Do we pay too much attention to sports?

A: I think we probably do pay too much attention to sports in this country, myself included. On the other hand, it’s an interesting sort of escape. It contains a lot of interesting aspects of drama and high level performance – to me, high level sports achievements are just as impressive as those in symphony orchestra or ballet – and I like those things as well!

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