I have been a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys and especially Emmitt Smith for many years. For example, one of the most difficult moments in my appreciation of sports occurred when the Dallas Cowboys released Smith and he ended up on a lackluster Arizona Cardinals. This was after he had just surpassed the late great Walter Payton to become the number one rushing running back in the history of the National Football League. "They are the two most punitive judgments that can be handed down for a running back: Too small, too slow. And yet that was the harsh assessment of Emmitt Smith, 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds, by the pro-scouts although he was an All-American at Florida. That same Emmitt Smith who skittered and stutter-stepped his way past the NFL rushing record held by his idol, Walter Payton, and finished with 18,355 yards." (Schwartz) There are some who say that he is only a football player and that should certainly not lay a foundation of any significance in our culture. But, this essay aims to prove otherwise -- Emmitt Smith is and should continue to be a cultural icon for his many achievements.
When an individual, including artists, politicians, athletes or whatever, can be seen or considered to be the very best in the world at their particular event or thing and that thing is legal, socially acceptable and a positive addition to the overall betterment of society and the masses, then that individual most certainly deserves the recognition of his or her community. "While sports aren't necessarily fair, we can still take heart in the many exceptions to the rule. The truly outstanding athlete always fights his way to the top, no matter what the odds, inspiring us with his courage and determination." (Sands) Consider athletes such as Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Nadia Comaneci and of course Emmitt Smith; these individuals have all achieved a level of greatness that can only be equated to the likes of other greats like Van Gogh, Bill Gates or Bill Clinton.
They all were the best at what they did or do and deep down inside, all of us regular people would love to have even half of their abilities whether they are physical, mental or both. Cultural requirements for a hero are founded in certain individual traits which Emmitt Smith can be said to have demonstrated. These include but are not limited to: an air of sacrifice, determination, loyalty, courage, dedication, intrepidity, valor, selflessness, conviction, internal and external focus, gallantry, perseverance, fortitude and bravery. These are the things that legends are made of and these are also the things that make Emmitt Smith important to our culture.
The popularity and power of professional sports in the United States shows that it is a major part of our culture. Sports have been a part of our culture from the beginning. "American cities from their inception have been called upon to make policy decisions regarding their residents' sporting pastimes. Even in the colonial era, local governments were responsible for protecting public thoroughfares, community norms, and the social order. Thus, as early as 1631, Boston began regulating taverns, which were important sites of gambling sports, and in 1647 banned bowling and shuffleboard because of the gambling nexus. The town permitted useful sports on the Common, but prohibited blood sports, and, as in most colonial communities, Dutch New Amsterdam proscribed Sunday sports because they detracted from God's Day." (Rich)
Professional sports today generate millions of dollars in revenues, fills major portions of our newspapers and media time, and has a capacity to take any ordinary child from total obscurity and move them into the high levels of wealth, fame and world celebrity status. Once this status is reached, society takes advantage of the prestige to incorporate the person into generating even more revenues. Didn't everyone see all of the commercials that Emmitt Smith has done and aren't the commercials supposed to be the most entertaining portion of the Super Bowl? "It has become almost impossible to separate movies, television, books, music, and the World Wide Web from each other or from an array of consumer goods -- clothes, shoes, snacks, gadgets, soft drinks, candy, fast foods, video games, cosmetics, and drugs. More than at any other time in this century, popular culture is unified and teens are unified by their popular culture." (Rollin)
These revenues that are generated in a direct or indirect manner by the professional athletes like Emmitt Smith also are an example of how important they are in the realm of the current trends towards globalization for both business and cultural views of the world. "One specific focus of these debates is whether or not the new international economic, national, and cultural alliances, in conjunction with an ever-expanding mediascape, are contributing to a standardized, homogenized, and globally shared culture. The emergent, simulated cultural space and experience, which are largely, but not exclusively, driven by the machinations of American-mediated popular culture, are seemingly demonstrated by the universal presence of commodity-signs such as CNN, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Nike, Baywatch, the Disney Corporation, the NBA, and the focus of our analysis, Michael Jordan. While it would be a mistake to deny the global ubiquity of this ever-expanding economy of cultural artifacts, it would be equally erroneous to suggest that an increased circulation of commodity-signs inevitably leads to the creation of globally homogeneous or "Americanized" patterns of popular cultural existence." (Sands)
Professional athletes are well paid, well respected and put on a pedestal. Our modern twenty first century world culture has incorporated sports into all aspects of life. For example, there are a plethora of evaluative references to sports in all aspects of life such as the three-strike policy of our jurisprudence process, baseball caps worn by the masses, and even the phenomenon of basketball shoes representing fashion trends. Yes, sports can be considered to have an extremely important role in our psyche and is a major aspect of the American popular culture.
When one athlete such as Emmitt Smith excels to the top levels of his sport, he too influences our modern culture. How many children want to be Emmitt during pick up games in the play ground? The individual performers of sports therefore can be considered to be an important part of society and the popular culture. The professional athlete wields an immense level of power and holds a sort of influential mystic over the admiring fan. Our culture rewards participation in sports by teaching the importance of the underlying attributes like determination and responsibility.
Even those who claim to not be sports fans are either directly or indirectly affected because such a large proportion of our society does embrace it. There are many instances where sports are the only path for wayward students to get the advantages offered by college and university educations. The college scholarship process is inadvertently looking for the next Emmitt Smith right now. Somewhere, in the downtrodden urban jungle is an athlete who will one day surpass Smith's on field accomplishments. In this sense, sports can be considered as an institution laying a foundation of harmony between the rich and the poor, different ethnicities and races and a symbol of team work.
We Americans have historically looked to our sporting icons as role models of courage, perseverance, discipline, character and success. As demonstrated by the many Olympic medalists who were stripped of there medals as well as Major league Baseball's new anti-doping and steroid policies, we as a culture cannot simply accept those who break the rules of the game in order to win at any cost. No, our society has regularly rewarded those individuals who are seen as being extremely dedicated both on and off the field. With the increased scrutiny of a voracious media, our athletes and all those in the spot light have been subjected to even more pressure to maintain the high levels of standards indirectly demanded by the society as a whole. Emmitt Smith has so far been an exemplary role model.
There is a problem with how our culture views sports. Consider that once on the pedestal, it is a very difficult position to maintain. It is a great honor to be a star in our society -- but, of course, stardom does not guarantee cultural acceptance. When we need examples of those athletes who have fallen from cultural graces, we only need to look to O.J. Simpson, Jose Conseco, Darryl Strawberry or Tonia Harding.
Our culture has a tendency of turning on those that abuse the power and significance obtained through professional athletics. Smith learned his lessons in college and never made the mistakes of the typical athlete. "In the spring of 1988, Smith learned the price of fame could be costly. While attending a fraternity party with some teammates, he got into a fight and was suspended from the team for two weeks of spring practice. When headlines referred to "Smith and 11 others" being…