#15 Athletes as Executives (1998)

rat All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day
The baseball strike of 1994 and beyond, the expressed shock at Reggie Lewis’ supposed drug use, and the regular athletes-are-bad-guys editorializing in our local newspapers has made me reconsider what athletes are to our culture.  Doing that made me realize that athletes have been raised above the standard we require for government officials, corporate executives, professionals such as lawyers and doctors, and even coaches.  I guess this is one more sign that our country’s priorities are so screwed up that even sports no longer make sense.
I guess this resorting of occupational importance occurred because salaries for athletes are so widely known and so incredibly large.  The big money part applies to  a whole category of people who’s performance is a lot more important to the country, but we don’t hear about the money they make through the daily papers and television. 
Face it, if a basketball player gets paid a few million as one member of a dozen person team, it’s pretty obvious—even to a half-bright sportswriter—that the team owner is raking in a whole lot more money for that investment.  That is, simply, how business works.  But you never see sportswriters criticize owners for being overpaid, under motivated, and under talented.  Anyone who has looked closely at the problems in American business knows that the source of our market failures is consistently a management failure.  Why would a sports team’s failures be any different? 
At the top end of American business, we’ve had a collection of executive goofballs expose their ignorance and incompetence on a constant basis, but how often does a local newspaper or television station run an expose on those bozos?  Next to never, unless they rake off a few billion in a local savings and loan and the Feds are hauling them to jail.  The press doesn’t usually catch that until the company PR spokesperson issues a “we are not idiots and/or crooks” press release.  What kind of outrage do you think the press would express if a Fortune 500 executive spent a few months drying out with Betty Ford?  It happens all the time and the press says nothing, even though these people are responsible for thousands of jobs and millions of dollars.  The standard simply isn’t the same and you have to wonder “why?”
Athletes don’t get any kind of consideration for privacy or, even, humanity.  For one, they aren’t from the ruling class.  They are working class, for the most part, who make ruling class salaries.  Apparently, that salary covers a lot more than payment for athletic performance.  Judging by the standards sportswriters seem to hold for athletes, their salaries include an obligation to assure sportswriters with employment.  Athletes may also be our middle class frustration scapegoat.  The ruling class has always done its best to find us someone to point fingers at, other than themselves, so that they can avoid making a cultural contribution equal to the wealth they extract from the culture and the middle class. 
Athletes deserve some of this attention.  They are instantly rich, nearly the moment after leaving college.  Many of these instant millionaires never prove to be worth a small portion of their guaranteed income.  Even those who make valuable contributions to their teams and sport are more profitable than most small to medium sized businesses.  The typical first round draft choice will make more money in his first year of full time employment than most of us will earn in our lifetimes.  That has to create some resentment among the working class. 
But that is no different than the children of the ruling class.  They often inherit the equivalent of the lifetime earnings of a pro athlete superstar, without ever lifting a finger.  They can control incredible assets without ever knowing the slightest thing about the businesses they manipulate.  Thousands of lives can hinge on their spoiled brat whims.  Stock markets can rise and fall from the maneuverings of their portfolio managers.  And their personal habits are completely out of the realm of public inspection.  Their business transactions are never disclosed by the media.  Somehow, they completely escape the attention given to a first round draft choice, who at the very least is among the 1,000 most talented people in the country in his sport.  Why is that?  I really want to know.
April 1998

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