[Viewpoint]More than a gameMany fans are disappointed about the recent news that some professional baseball players have frequently used Internet gambling sites and lost large amounts of money. Pro baseball players are celebrities. They relieve stress for people who love to follow the sport with its hitting, pitching, base stealing, bunts and home runs. They are powerful people, and that is why they must be aware of their responsibility.
Professional athletes often show weakness when it comes to gambling. Sports and gambling are similar in nature. In a competition, it is natural to make a bet, the first step of gambling.
When playing table tennis with friends, we bet with beverages because betting, no matter how small the amount is, makes the game more intense and thrilling.
The problem is that betting can be addictive and tends to grow in magnitude. There is no clear standard to define gambling by the amount of the bet. And yet, the amount tends to go up without the better being aware of it as gambling continues.
That is why it is important for an athlete to have self-restraint, not just talent for the game. When the amount of a bet is unreasonably high, players will become more focused on the bet than the actual sport. It now becomes a gamble.
Addiction is an even more serious problem. When betting is repeated, the thrill of winning often intoxicates players. Addiction, with the increasing size of bets, makes the situation worse. The outcome is financial destruction, devastation of the family and social problems.
Illegal Internet gambling by pro baseball players is typical. Of course, players did not bet on their own games. However, it shows that sports figures, who have competed for their entire lives, are psychologically more vulnerable to the temptation of gambling.
Athletes always agonize over the uncertainty of the game. Betting, in general, shows off one’s ability to make an accurate prediction about a game’s uncertain outcome. Therefore, sports players who always want to control the uncertainty of their games are more vulnerable to gambling addition.
Sports players’ backgrounds and the social atmosphere also make it easy for them to fall into gambling. Since their childhoods, they train for long hours every day and the training is extremely repetitive and simple. They voluntarily give up their leisure hours in order to improve their abilities. They are under extreme stress to win. It is, therefore, natural for them to not know how to use their spare time, and gambling often attracts them. It provides psychological comfort, and at the same time, they can feel excitement through this very simple medium.
In addition to such psychological and social factors, money also tempts players. After vigorous training, they become sports stars and earn high salaries. Gambling is one way they choose to spend it.
And yet, the players are obligated to engage in more training and games, which takes all their free time. Gambling, particularly Internet gambling, is a temptation for them because it is extremely easy to approach.
The best way to prevent the athletes from falling into gambling is participation in social activities and various leisure activities. That, however, does not happen overnight. For those trained since their childhoods, sports are everything. When they become adults, they often fail to participate in various social activities.
In order to grow up with well-rounded personalities, a wide spectrum of education and experiences should be provided to sports players. Athletes should never skip classes at school and they must attain a certain academic level.
It is also important to gradually scrap the system of athletes’ training camps because it restricts their daily lives. Student-athletes’ games should take place during weekends or vacations.
Adult athletes should participate in programs that teach them to participate in society. Rather than criticizing them for gambling, society needs to understand their backgrounds and situations and try to help them.
It is, of course, critical for sports players to be self-aware and protect themselves from various temptations. The true sports hero always relies on more than talent.
*The writer is a professor of sports sociology at the Korea National Sport University.
by Lee Jong-young