I've been an avid sports fan for as long as I can remember. I guess at first, when I was perhaps four or five years old, it was just the action that drew me in. But when I happened to come upon alpine skiing on the Universal Sports Network last night, my wife threw up her hands and asked what it was that made me interested in yet another sport? I explained that way back in the sixties (okay, she's quite a bit younger than me), although there was less sports programming, we actually were exposed to more sports. ABC's Wide World of Sports showed a variety of different athletic endeavors, one of which was skiing. Now, we tend to watch skiing only during the Winter Olympic Games. I can still remember such legends as Jean-Claude Killy, racing down mountains in distant countries when they were still very far away.
But her question got me thinking beyond just my fascination with what is considered a lesser sport in the United States. It also prompted me to ponder my own attraction to sports in general, whether it be the popular ones such as football and basketball, or the more peculiar offerings of curling or cricket. As I was coming home from work today, I realized that for me, it was because sports represents a microcosm of culture and the world in general. Many of the issues, whether domestically or internationally, that our societies deal with, are many times played out during games or over the course of off the field debates.
The Role of Government: As we grapple with the pros and cons of big government and programs such as the Affordable Health Care Act (more commonly referred to as Obama Care), sports has actually been affected by this issue for decades. The most visible is that of public funding for football stadiums. Is it really the role of municipalities to fund the construction and maintenance of stadiums where billionaires' can pay athletes millions of dollars to play, when almost every other business in the country has to pay for their own places of business? If one takes the emotion out of this argument, there is almost no way to justify the public expenditure in land and infrastructure for a building that will host at most twelve games a year. In addition, those high salaries are actually put on the shoulders of the tax paying public. Ludicrous, yet we still see it happening.
Societal Woes: Is it okay for a man to beat up his girlfriend and leave her lying in a motionless heap in a casino hotel elevator? Probably not, unless the man happens to be a top running back in the NFL. If your next door neighbor beat up his wife and left her on the porch of their residence, do you think he'd get a pass? Well, guess what? Probably so. And it took the Ray Rice incident, which I and many in this country still find reprehensible that the brutal coward is not behind bars, to shine the light more brightly on domestic violence.
Responsibility: So Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch doesn't feel like appearing before the press after football games. I get that, I really do. Except for one big fact: Lynch signed a contract for a lot of money to play football for the Seahawks, a franchise in the National Football League. As a player in the NFL, Lynch is a member of the National Football League Players Association, who on his behalf collectively bargained for certain contractual benefits provided by the teams and the NFL in exchange for him signing to play. It should be the end of the story, but it's not. For some reason, Lynch has taken it upon himself to make a mockery of the aforementioned obligations, seemingly forgetting about the benefits afforded himself and some 1600 or so fellow players. What kind of message is he sending to future generations, many of which already have a problem with authority? The wrong one, that's what. But this isn't just a problem in sports, so is Lynch just an example of a broader problem, or is he, by his fame and notoriety, contributing to the problem?
The Haves and Have Nots: Economically, we are seeing a widening in the gap between the wealthiest and the middle class. Sports mirrors this trend. The best players, regardless of the sport, command salaries in the $20 million range and higher. The bottom of the scale is $120,000 to maybe $500,000, depending on the sport. And those are just the players. The Los Angeles Clippers changed hands for around $2 billion, yes with a B, when Donald Sterling was forced by the NBA to sell the team (that's an entirely different issue). Is this healthy? Does it make sense for a CEO of a Fortune 500 company to make $10 or $15 million when the company loses money? All good questions.
Free Speech: Is there really such a thing anymore? I think not. Chris Paul was highly criticized this week for voicing his opinion about a rookie referee. The only problem was that he referred to the ref as "her", which in this case was totally accurate, given that she's a female. He in no way alluded to her gender, beyond saying "this might no be for her". What was he supposed to say, "this might not be for 'him''? He was ultimately fined $25,000, which for you or me is like a traffic ticket. I maintain if it had been a male referee, no fine would have been forthcoming, because we would never have been made aware of the comment in the first place.
Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK
Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel",
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