Some Thoughts on Fair Play from the Sportsmaster

I don’t know much about sports.  In fact, I know very little about the subject.  So when approached about writing an article for a sports blog, I was hard pressed to find a topic.  Until I remembered that what I do know about sports, I learned from comic books.

In the 1980’s when I went to high school, the cool kids liked sports and the geeky kids liked comics.  Take a wild guess on which camp I fell into.  Things are vastly different today.  With super hero movies changing everything about the perception of comics and comic characters in our society.  Today it wouldn’t be odd to find a football jock in the hallways of high school laughing with his friends over the latest issue of Deadpool.  There are super hero t-shirts in every store in every mall all across America these days.  Our entire culture is different.

Sports have changed too.  I mentioned that what I know about sports I learned from comics.  Well I can tell you that in the 1940’s baseball was by far the most popular American sport, and every red-blooded American boy followed the game.  At least that’s what comics would have me believe.  Now it seems that baseball’s popularity has taken backseat to football.  Today it’s football that’s considered the shiny badge of American patriotism.

Legendary comic book editor Julius Schwartz loved baseball.  From the 1940’s through to the 1980’s, comic books were just his work while science fiction novels and baseball were his passion.  He put the “League” in Justice League of America, inspired by his love of baseball.  And in 1947, Julius Schwartz was the story editor for Green Lantern when that character first faced a villain called the Sportsmaster.

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Crusher Crock was the greatest athlete in the world.  Unbeatable in everything he did.  But was eventually banned from all sports because he didn’t play fair.  And that’s putting it rather mildly.

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Since Crusher was banned from every sport and unable to play on any team in America, the next logical step for him to take was a life of crime.  Sports-themed crime.  And that’s when he ran afoul of the Green Lantern.  A super hero that made short work of him because of his immense power.

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Actually no, that’s not what happened at all.  In the 1940’s, Green Lantern was a blond guy named Alan Scott who wore a red shirt and a cape and who’s ring was vulnerable to wood.  He only used the ring to fly, pass through walls, occasionally save falling damsels, and deflect bullets.  He would then beat the bad guys to a pulp with his fists because that’s how things were done in the 1940’s.  

But when Green Lantern came across Crusher Crock, he had more then met his match.  Crusher smashed him up good several times before their climactic battle.

It was up to Green Lantern to show Crusher the value of good sportsmanship.

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Crusher was in no mood to learn the lesson.

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Crusher tried to attack Green Lantern from behind and was betrayed by the banister, falling to his death.  Hence the act of attacking someone from behind, a hallmark of bad sportsmanship, is what lead to his gruesome end.

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Of course, death in comics is never lasting and in five months Crusher was back from the dead with a new costume, new methods, new villain name, and actual cover appearance.

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But somehow, this took away from the basic elements of the character.  Turning Crusher into a card-carrying super villain calling himself the Sportsmaster and flying around on jet-skis took away from the primal viciousness of plain old Crusher Crock.  A man who was the best at every sport but couldn’t help but playing dirty.

For the first fifty years of their existence, comic books were aimed at kids and used as morality plays.  Striving to guide our children into the direction of adulthood by providing a solid moral foundation.  This is extremely evident in Crusher’s first appearance in 1947, going so far as to say cheating is what killed the man.  

I have two basic thoughts when reading this story.  First, I wonder how today’s athlete’s would interpret this.  In today’s age of hyper-competitiveness, capitalism driven sponsorship, steroid usage, and athlete’s being treated like untouchable celebrities.  Would Crusher Crock have anything to say to them?

Second, how are today’s kids learning the value of fair play?  Not many kids read comics anymore and if they did the stories they’re reading are far from the morality plays that comics were thirty years ago.  Is there some source that’s getting them this information?  Video games?  Reality television?  Facebook?  Or is the day being saved by the local t-ball coach, starting players out on the right foot for what’s fair and how best to win.  Guy’s like you, fair reader, who WERE raised on little morality plays in their entertainment.  Knowing is half the battle.

Or is the whole idea of “fair play” an antiquated notion from a bygone era?  You tell me.  I know nothing about sports.

D.C. Dill

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