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Sports and business: let's not confuse them

In the wake of an NBA season that saw one of its superstar players leave for greener pastures, and on the brink of an NFL season which will certainly be fraught with conversations of contracts, rules infractions and unruly behavior, it’s important to remember one thing: sports and professional sports aren’t the same.

Sports are a business — I hear that all the time.

But while money plays a role in the games our kids play, it’s the adults and their involvement in them that allow those roles to tarnish what sports are truly about.

Competition, teamwork and discipline — to name a few — are virtues found deep in the core of the games we play, be it mainstream sports like baseball, football, or basketball. And less prominent sports such as lacrosse, volleyball, or water polo — or individual ones like golf, tennis or even wrestling to an extent — teach us things beyond winning and losing.

Sports are fun. They’re fun to play, fun to watch and fun to experience both directly and indirectly through the eyes of a parent or fan of the game.

Sports offer lessons. Many of life’s challenges can often be resolved through lessons learned on the playing field. And sports and those who play them can often be admired for their truly artistic aspects.

But money has a way of mining the fun from them, clouding the lessons they present and nurturing less-than-admirable behavior from normally admirable souls.

As part of my job, I attend and report on Hillsboro Hops games. As a Class-A minor league organization, the Hops are comprised of mostly late-teens-to-early-20s young men getting their first taste of professional sports. Most are not wealthy. Fewer ever will be. Less than 10 percent of players drafted into baseball’s minor leagues will ever play a major league game, and most will be out of the sport in a couple years. But what you see before, during and after games is people having fun. The players, organizational employees and even the manager and his assistants love what they do. Money and what it represents at the highest level of sport hasn’t ruined them, because simply put, they don’t have it.

And I like that.

Little Leaguers aren’t taking performance-enhancing drugs. Recreational league middle schoolers aren’t worried about shoe contracts. And Pee Wee football players aren’t holding out from training camp because of contract disputes. That’s sports — the subterfuge is the business.

Sports are sports. Business is business. But when the two mix, the impurity of one can deplete the sanctity of the other. Sports are the latter, and it’s too bad the former can’t keep it that way.