Thursday, August 20, 2009

All Fun And Games Until Somebody Gets Hurt. . .

Let’s talk sports. Well, you talk sports, I need to pay attention to the road, as I’m flying down I-70, trying to evade the cops, while you read this.

Sports are great. Sports give you comedy, tragedy, triumph. . . the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat! But sports is a business and much of the business model is rotten, particularly in the NFL (the “No Fun League”) and the semi-pro, pre-trial diversionary program known as the NCAA.

• The Stadium Shake-Down: The NFL extorts news stadiums from cities. Each year, a dozen NFL owners declare their existing stadiums, most of which are barely half way through their useful lives, “uncompetitive” and they threaten to abandon the city if the taxpayers don’t fork over a new palace with all the latest amenities -- with the profits going to the NFL owner, of course. This dance continues year in and year out until the cities caves, fearful of losing “their” team. Indeed, many believe the reason Los Angeles doesn’t have a team is because the NFL uses the possibility of moving to L.A. as a threat against other cities.

Cities need to wise up. Whenever the issue of a new stadium comes up, pro-stadium groups put together “impact statements” purporting to show all of the benefits the city will accrue from handing over its treasury. But, as noted by an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, no independent study has ever found that the benefits of building a stadium outweighed the costs. Indeed, studies have found the economic benefit of building a stadium (direct jobs, indirect jobs, increased economic activity and additional tax revenue) to be only $2.9 million per year, on average. Comparing that to the $400+ million dollars it takes to build a stadium, even an athlete can see that is a bad deal.

So now the latest claim is that having a professional sports team adds to the “quality of life” in a city and makes it a more desirable place to live. . . like Cleveland, or Buffalo, or Detroit, or Pittsburgh. If this argument were at all credible, you would expect these cities to grow at least as fast as the rest of the country, if not faster. But they aren’t. In the past fifty years, Pittsburgh lost more than half its population, falling from being one of the top ten largest cities in the country to 54th. The same is true with the others.

Save your money folks, make the owners buy their own stadiums, because this is almost criminal. And speaking of criminal . . .

• NFL Correctional Facility: The NFL has a crime problem. There is a website which runs a “days without arrest” counter for NFL players. In the past several years, that counter has only hit double digits on a handful of occasions, and only twice reached the “20 day” mark. I would say that typically, an NFL player gets arrested once every ten days. Recent charges have ranged from drug dealing, to beating up pregnant women (two separate incidents), to vehicular manslaughter. Simply put, the league is awash with criminals. And this is so because the NFL has set up a culture that allows it. Players with talent will get a slap on the wrist until the public pressure becomes too much for a franchise to bear.

An athlete commits a crime. The community is outraged. The NFL immediately goes into cover-up mode. Coaches and league officials proclaim that the player is a good guy who just made a mistake, oh and ignore all his criminal activity in college. The outrage grows, so the NFL asks you to wait as they decide on a fair punishment -- usually a minor suspension. The outrage continues to grow. Thus, finally, forced into a corner, the franchise must fire the player. But that’s not the end. Instead, the player is immediately picked up by another team that is willing to provide him with “a second chance” -- provided he does not commit more crimes. When he does, we repeat the process. And how many second chances does the NFL give? As many as needed until the player’s talent fades. The next person to be injured by an NFL players should sue the league under RICO because it’s enabling is getting dangerously close to making it into a criminal enterprise. And that brings us to. . .

• Michael Vick And Phony Indignation: Michael Vick spent last year in prison after pleading guilty to running a dog fighting ring out of his house. He served his time, and thus, he is legally forgiven. But that doesn’t mean that we must forgive him personally, and I don’t. I think the NFL should never have taken him back, or its other criminals. This is an organization, after all, that actively promotes the concept of athletes being role models.

At this point, Vick has yet to show contrition, except for being caught. The NFL assures us that he has, but NFL contrition isn’t like regular contrition. NFL contrition is written by lawyers and PR guys and it uses words that the players not only have never spoken, but couldn’t find in the dictionary with a four letter head start.

And the sports media, a truly slavish group, plays along. When Vick was caught, every single columnist wrote how Vick’s conduct was contrary to everything the NFL stands for, and they assured us that he would never rejoin the NFL: trust the NFL! These writers didn’t believe Vick should ever be let back in, and neither did the NFL, they assured us. But now, with the NFL having let Vick back in, these same people who yelled “never again” are singing “Welcome Back Cotter” and they are assuring us that the NFL knows how to handle and rehabilitate guys like Vick. . . ignore the NFL crime wave.

• The War On English: And speaking of crime waves, what the NFL is doing to our language is a crime. NFL game announcers are usually ex-players, and these guys are idiots. They know nothing except football, and they don’t even seem to understand that “good.” They certainly don’t understand the rules, and they’re not very good at telling you what is happening on the field. But what bothers me more about these idiots is their truly stunning misuse of the English language. Not one of them knows that adverbs end in “ly,” fewer still know the difference between words like “good” and “well” or “fewer” and “less.” Many can’t conjugate verbs. This grates on my nerves. It, also, in my opinion sends the wrong message to people who are watching, particularly children, who learn to speak from what they hear. English skills are bad enough without 12 hours of poor English brought into the home every weekend. And these guys are college grads? What does that say about college. . .

• College “Athletes” My Foot: What this says about college is that college athletics is a sham. These guys aren’t students, at least I hope they’re not. If they are, then we should burn our colleges to the ground because they’re a total disaster. How in the world can someone graduate from an institution of higher learning who cannot read or write. . . or speak. If these are students, then heads should roll.

Colleges need to either be honest that these players are nothing more than hired mercenaries who play for their semi-pro farm teams, or they need to seriously reconsider what the mission of student athletics is? Isn’t the point to learn good sportsmanship, to learn teamwork, and to give students an opportunity for a little exercise? If that’s the case, why are the athletic facilities off limits to regular students, why did I never see some of the football players who graduated with me in the classes we supposedly took together, and why were the hockey players across the hall in my dorm given the answers to the tests the night before?

Aren’t we told that the reason football is so valuable is because it gives these hard luck kids a chance to go to college, which they otherwise could not do? What good is that, it they learn nothing except how to drop into zone coverage? And considering that so few will make it to the NFL, shouldn’t education be the actual focus of college?

(FYI, I’m opposed to the idea of a college playoff system, but that’s for another article.)

As I said at the beginning, I’m traveling today and tomorrow (never fear, there will be a Film Friday article tomorrow), so I can’t respond to comments until later. But please do leave comments. I will respond when I get the chance. Also, please feel free to use the comments to discuss any sports issues that you’d like to discuss, and let us know your favorite team(s). . . so that we can laugh at you. ;-)


LawHawkSF said...

The Stadium Shakedown has been going on for quite awhile here in SF. The 49ers have been negotiating with San Jose for a stadium, and it looks right now like San Jose is going to get them. Of course that means that the entire meaning of the name 49ers disappears. The original 49ers arrived in 1849 and those who didn't stay to build the stores and businesses to support the gold rush, became the prospectors in the gold country who turned San Francisco from a sleepy port city into the great metropolis of the West. San Jose wasn't even considered as a destination for the 49ers. Maybe they'll change their name to the San Jose Suburbanites (although I have to admit, San Jose's population dwarfs San Francisco's, nevertheless it's like the 1945 description of Los Angeles--seven suburbs in search of a city).

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

Great article Andrew! As a native Pittsburgher, I just had to weigh in, of course. :-D Yeah, we've been held hostage to build new stadiums all right, even though the citizens through a referendum in 1997 collectively said "no".

It's not just the NFL either. We've been forced to build TWO new stadiums--Heinz Field (football) and PNC Park (baseball). So... how's that new ballpark working out for you, Pittsburgh Pirates? (They're losing big time this year, and they have been for years.) But wait, there's more! Yeah, we've got a hockey team too (Pittsburgh Penguins), and they held the city hostage to get a new arena. But somehow, they managed to win the Stanley Cup in their old arena. Amazing, isn't it? And even though we're broke as a city, we somehow found the money to pay for a victory parade for the Penguins too.

But I think all this is made possible by the worshipful fans. You would not believe (or maybe you would?) how many Steelers players hawk products on local TV and radio. Like I should put my money in a bank because some football playing thug tells me I should? And I'm supposed to believe he's a financial expert? But it must be effective, because the ads continue ad nauseum. How long do you think it will be before Michael Vick starts doing endorsements? Maybe he could do dogfood ads.

As long as fans continue to fill up stadiums and buy products pimped by players, the corruption in sports will continue. Hmmm, I could say the same thing about politics.

StanH said...

The same thing is happening here in Atlanta. Author Blank owner of the Atlanta Falcons co-founder of The Home Depot, started rumbling that the stadium finished in 1995 for the Olympics is outdated and inadequate. I see yet another stadium in our future, let the games begin.

At least you guys in Pittsburgh have a great football team. We in Atlanta have high hopes with Matt Ryan and company.

Writer X said...

Andrew: Are you typing these posts with your toes and steering with her hands?? Impressive! ;-)

I hate to say it but I love watching pro football. It signals Fall for me. But, the communication skills of the announcers does royally get on my nerves. Still, worse than that (and perhaps a topic for another post) are the female sports announcers on the field. I'd rather listen to someone who's been there, who's played, not some blonde bobblehead who's trying to make everyone believe that she's tight with the coaches and the teams. Not someone named "Suzi." Please. It's like listening to a gymnast give the play-by-plays of a tennis match.

I remember going to class with college basketball players and football players. I went to a Big 10 school. Oddly, many of them majored in "Communication." Anyway, I went to class--they never did--and yet somehow they always passed. It was a Christmas miracle. ;-)

Skinners 2 Cents said...

Great article and sadly all to true. I'm a proponent of removing sports from schools entirely.

The public feeder system of athletes starts in high school and sometime as early as junior high. Football leaves many students with permanent injuries and 90% of the people playing will not be going to college on a scholarship. Nor, and here's the kicker, will they ever get padded up again to play another game after high school. What a useless sport to learn. The easy schedule, teacher friendly attitude begins in high schools in earnest. Here even at the high school level one will find steroid use a well.

Schools are for learning period, all high schools have PE, where we all get to learn about sports. To be an equal opportunity basher, I must also say how ridiculous cheer leading is. Personally I think cheer leading is actually just stripper training. We don't ask these special cliques to learn anything only that they battle for our schools honor and bragging rights.

Here's something a school should brag about. Their test scores and collective grades for students attending an institution designed for learning.

If you want to play sports there are plenty of Park and Recreations leagues in a majority of cities and towns to do so at.

One of the things that I did take away from Spain was their incredible schooling. Spaniards can't understand the idea of popularity that they see in all our high school films. They don't understand this concept because there are no jocks and no cheerleaders, only students. Popularity in these schools is based only on your personality and intelligence not on your ability to catch or throw a ball or perform meaningless and provocative dance routines.

It's time for our country to get back to the basics. I wonder if Vick got a new dog with his jersey and lucrative contract?

Writer X said...

Skinner, I have to chuckle at your comment. As a former cheerleader, I couldn't agree with you more about cheerleading. I lasted one semester and it was the worst semester of my life. My family (especially my brother) still teases me about it. I'll just leave it at that.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks folks. I like watching football a lot, but I don't like these aspects of the league. They need to clean up these issues or they are just asking for Congress to step in.

Writer X, a cheerleader? I never would have guessed.

Pitts, your city certainly has their priorities right.

Stan & Lawhawk, It's happening all over the country and will keep happening.

Skinner, I think you're right. I'm not sure why we add athletics to education. I understand it as an additional activity, but it should never be confused with education. . . which it seems to be.

BevfromNYC said...

Once again NY rises above the rest! We have 3 brand new stadiums (stadiae?) - Yankees, Mets and Giants/Jets. Technically, the Giants/Jets stadium is in NJ, but I am sure NY has found a way to pay for it with NY tax dollars.

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