Monday, June 10, 2013

Perspective and Sports

Big news at the end of the week was the investigation into doping in Major League Baseball.  A question that never makes the news is why we make sports so important in our lives.  People will tell you that the most important things to them, what they hold dear, include values like:  family, faith, health, a good education and safe environment for their children, freedom, friendship and loyalty, integrity, and security.  These are what they say are important to them and should play a role in making decisions and setting priorities.

Then along come our favorite sports teams, and people will ignore family, glued to the television, allowing the outcome of a game to affect their mood for the rest of the day.  There must also be a winner and a loser.  Ties are not acceptable, so professional sports and the NCAA go to great lengths to develop tie-breaking rules.  Even in high school where sports should be a vehicle for teaching sportsmanship, character building, and teamwork, ties are not acceptable.  A coach who doesn’t deliver a winning season for a few years is run out of town.  The stars play while the rest sit on the bench – presumably building character.  We have read about recent examples of recreational sports referees being attacked by players and spectators.

We see professional athletes not as entertainers, but as heroes.  We buy products and favor brands based only on their word.  We pay half a house payment for tickets, parking and concessions so they can collect millions of dollars for throwing, batting or catching.  When athletes use drugs to help them perform better, to entertain us better, we feel betrayed.  When they can't live up to the hero status, we are shocked.  The league officials and even Congress investigate to punish the culprits and clean up the game.  This is only a problem because we have enough time and money to indulge in this luxury, elevating it to an exalted level of interest and importance – if most people didn’t care, it wouldn’t make the news.  If we refused to pay more than $6 per ticket instead of $60 and up, so they are paid thousands instead of millions, how many athletes would be willing to risk their health or their lives by taking performance-enhancing drugs?  

We can complain about teachers having the most important jobs and being paid less than entertainers, but the pay of each is driven by how much value we put on each based on our willingness to spend or be taxed.  It’s exactly the outcome we have chosen. 

Our real values are not what we say they are; they are reflected in our behavior.  In this case, perhaps they are investigating the wrong side of the equation.

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