#22 Perspectives: Skewed and Screwed (1999)

All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day

After being snow bound in our homes for six months, we start to think Minnesota is the craziest place in the country. We complain about politics, idiotically high taxes, crooked and moronic politicians, and things that ruin the fishing like we're the only people in the country suffering from these things. I'm not trying to tell you that Minnesota makes much sense, but I've lived in a lot of places and Minnesota is no different than the rest of the country. No better. No worse.

Having said that, we're hosed. Just like everybody else.

The argument over the Twin's domed-or-domeless stadium is a great example of an urban hosing. The news dorks are arguing over which politician has received the biggest unmarked brown paper bags full of money and they wring their hands over which special interest group gift-wrapped the cash. They argue this stuff like someone ought to give a damn. Who cares? We know it wasn't us. We know we're not getting the money and we're not sending it. We'll be asked to cough up a ton of tax money so that the fat cats can play their funny-money games, but when it's all over I still gotta ask "who cares?"

If we keep the Twins or lose them, it doesn't matter to 99.99% of us. Honest. That's pretty close to the percentage of citizens who support local pro sports; in the most rabid cities. If all the pro teams in the world moved to Pakistan and we only got to see them play every four years at the Olympics when they Dream Team'd us into second place, it won't matter to more than 0.01% of the population. The fact is that almost none of us ever watch a Twin's game, in person or on the tube. Almost no Minnesotans watch any kind of team with any kind of real interest. If you ask the average American if they'd rather see their local pro team win the championship or see NYPD Blue's Sipowitz naked, when they're telling the truth, the big, hairy butt would get the Nielson points and Busch wouldn't know what kind of beer ad to run that night.

Even among that group that does watch, the majority don't really care who's playing or what city got screwed into building the stadium. It's just a game. The guys run up and down some kind of playing field for a while and somebody plays with an oversized calculator to show us who won. It doesn't matter because it's designed not to matter. Before expansion watered the leagues down to semi-pro quality, some teams played each other so often that it was hard to tell the day's game from the weeks' highlights. And some of us still went to the game when there wasn't anything else to do. All that proves is that a few people need a good hobby.

I'm not really writing this to badmouth sports, though. I like sports. The thing that baffles me is why we are supposed to care about the management of these teams? While only one out of every thousand of us watches an occasional game, less one out of one hundred thousand makes any money out of pro sports. We get fed the maneuvering of team management like it somehow mattered to our daily lives. The local newspapers and the boob tube talking heads seem to be certain that we are interested at that level.

Actually, they don't care what interests us. They can noodle around the mindless sports drivel and, as long as we don't wise up and drop our subscriptions and turn off the tube, they're perfectly happy to feed us intellectual Gerber's baby paste. It's easy. They don't have to do any kind of real work to churn out a sports story. The teams have publicists who write the stories for them. The pretty boys and girls of the press can comb their hair and trowel on the makeup and never have to worry about digging for useful information; something rarely seen as "news." The media managers don't have to worry about pissing off advertisers by criticizing real companies that make real products and employ real people. It's win-win for them. Between pointless politics and meaningless sports stories, that about wraps up the eleven o'clock news every night.

There are three-hundred-and-some-million people in the country and the news goofs want us to believe that a few hundred men playing boys' games are the most important issues in the nation. They waste a fifth of the paper describing which basketball players are "doing real good" by staying out of jail this week, but they don't have a clue what kind of foolishness is going on in the nation's largest companies.

What is that all about? On its best day, a pro sports team barely turns over enough profit to justify its corporate status. Counting the peanut vendors, a team might employ enough people to support a small neighborhood. The people who give us "information" about the value of sports teams to the city are exactly the people with the most vested interests: sportswriters. Why would anyone listen to them? If the teams leave, they go back to writing about car wreaks and gangbangers. They're worried that they'll have to learn how to write something without "I just wanna help my team" clichés.

While the media is worrying us about who is managing and playing for dinky little basketball, baseball, and football teams, real stuff is happening out there that they miss. Important stuff. Billion dollar companies with thousands of employees are being mismanaged by pointy-haired, Dilbert-zone, MBA-zombie managers. Companies are being sabotaged because their management is too bottom-line focused and technical ignorant to see the hazards to which their products subject consumers. Products are being shoved out the door to meet deadlines that have no purpose beyond producing executive bonuses. Organizations are being "downsized" at the bottom end to make room for another batch of purposeless vice presidents. (I still want to know why piddly little companies need a dozen VP's and the whole freaking nation only needs one.) Every one of these companies makes products and employs people that have a direct effect on our daily lives and they get way less scrutiny than the average scrub pro basketball player's free throw average.

Let's look at this in context. For example, when an executive for a medical devices or drug company screws up, he screw up big time. If an auto company exec decides we don't need an extra bolt or two holding a mini-van frame together, people get maimed, killed, and have seriously bad days. When a corporate raider buys a company, strips it of its assets, and sells off the burning hulk, people lose their jobs, they leave town, more people lose their jobs, and we get a local recession.

If Phil Jackson sent his entire team out to guard the wrong end of the court, what happens? Nothing, that's what. Two diddly points or one game out of a hundred lost. Who cares? The Bulls get beat and it doesn't matter at all. The Timberwolves got beat about every winter night for the last five years and Minneapolis did quite well, thank you. Chicago is the home of the NBA's world champions, and Chicago is still a depressing dump. In the 80's the Lakers and Dodgers were world champs and that did Rodney King exactly zero good and L.A. was burning a good portion of the time. If the Twins, Timberwolves, Vikings, and whoever else plays with balls in Minnesota leave town, it's not a big deal. If a few key corporations pack up their toys and move to Idaho, we're screwed.

Someday, we're going to have to get a grip and figure out what really matters. Sports are recreation, but they aren't business. Sports hold the same value when they are played by you and I or Michael and the Jordanaires. It's not rocket science. It's not any kind of science. At its best, sports are a kind of art but we don't worry about artists' agents or managers and we should be worried about managing or owing pro teams. If they don't provide enough business to support themselves, forget 'em. It doesn't matter.

July 1999

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