Time for a Revolution in Sports?

Ending Classism

Basketball without a middle class is a game where people are playing selfishly, trying to pad their stats at the expense of the team because there is no security.

— Etan Thomas ((Quoted by Dave Zirin, “N.B.A. Lockout: Can Players Save Owners from Themselves?New Yorker, 1 July 2011. ))

When I was young, a group of us would gather on a sandlot and divide ourselves into teams, share bats, balls, and gloves, and we would play baseball late into the evening. If a bunch of young kids can organize themselves into teams and have fun playing on any available park or lot, then why can’t adult, millionaire, professional athletes do the same?

Lockouts loom in the NBA and NFL; it is owners pitted against players. One fact stands out starkly: there is no sport without the players; the same can not be said about the owners.

Sport fans want to see and follow their teams and favorite athletes. The solution seems simple: the players just need to take control of their own futures. They are already organized into player unions, so why not go the next step and become owner-players?

Why not control the revenue, the schedule, travel, the number of games, deciding upon the rules, etc.? Why not take charge of their own security and safety? No need to deal with billionaire owners, just take matters into your own hands and play. The union just needs to organize itself into a league.

The players also have a chance to be at the forefront of a progressive society. For example, why should sports be classist?

Football, basketball, baseball, and hockey (all plagued by recent dissension between owners and players) are team sports. Games are not won by one or a few players alone.

Case in point, after Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the National Hockey League’s best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals, the media began looking for scapegoats, and the hapless, highly paid Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was an easy target. ((TSN.CA Staff, “Luongo, Sedins Will Shoulder Most of the Blame for Canucks,” TSN, 16 June 2011.)) Following Vancouver’s loss, players being interviewed defended their beleaguered goalie and stated — correctly – that it is a team game. Luongo stated likewise.

I accept the premise that it is a team game. However, if this premise is correct, then why is there such a huge discrepancy in the salaries paid to players on the teams? Do they not all show up for practices and the games and put in the required effort?

Seniority aside, do certain public transit bus drivers in one city get paid more than their colleagues? Do certain public school teachers in one school district get paid more than their colleagues?

Why then do professional athletes uphold an inequality in remuneration? If players support the inequality, then how can high-paid “stars” shirk criticism for poor play by pointing out it is a team sport?

Players have a chance to throw off the shackles of ownership demands by becoming owners themselves, but how will they eliminate/handle classism in their sport when they have control?

Player-owners would be empowered to limit stress from overly long seasons, injuries, and the pressure of expectations. Equality in remuneration should do much to diminish the sting of media criticism placed upon high-paid “stars.” Remuneration based equally on effort and sacrifice will place the emphasis on games being a team sport.

And what about the fans? There is classism in who can attend games caused by high ticket prices. Will players make their sport a sport of the people by helping make games available to the widest possible audience?

I quoted Etan Thomas at the outset from an article titled “N.B.A. Lockout: Can Players Save Owners from Themselves?” However, if the players possess a revolutionary zeal, a better question might be: Can Players Save Themselves and Society from Being Owned?

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Read other articles by Kim.