What one has to realize is that the big business of sports is not something that has sprouted overnight. For a good example of the way professional sports used to be, one should look at the Arena Football League or the now-defunct Major Indoor Lacrosse League. Both leagues paid players a pittance per game, and even the best players in the Arena League, which now has a television contract with ABC, still need to work a "regular" job to supplement their income.
The increase in expendable income and entertainment spending in industrialized nations has seen the rise of an "entertainment class" - athletes and musicians and actors who all make ridiculous amounts of money - because the economy supports it. That's why Alex Rodriguez makes 23 million dollars a year. That's why Brian Griese (yes, Brian Griese) is the highest paid player in professional football, raking in $15.1 million per annum. A certain distinction should be made when it comes to professional sports. We're watching because the feats of athletic skill that go on at the professional level are as close to physical perfection as we're likely to see. Basketball players don't "put a ball in a hoop" any more than physicists "add a bunch of numbers" or carpenters "nail a bunch of wood together".
And despite what many think, there's a lot you can do about how much they get paid to do what they do. As a sports fan, I listen to a lot of sports radio and read a lot of online chats about sports, and one of the fundamental misconceptions that sports fans have is that they're protesting the team by staying home. "If they think I'm gonna come out to the ballpark and support those overpaid bums," they say, "they've got another thing coming." At the same time, they feel the need to call a radio station and voice their opinion about the team they're not supporting, and they talk about how bad all of the players are, and back their assessments up with all of the visual evidence they've collected while watching the games on their 51" widescreen television set.
There's the problem. The NFL gets half of its revenue through television contracts. The New York Yankees have a $400 million television contract - their stadium could be empty and they'd still bring in more cash than any team in the league. Fans in the stands don't matter as long as Monday Night Football is bringing in an 18.1 rating and a 26 share.
Solution: stop watching sports. Stop going to the games, stop watching the games on television, stop listening to the games on radio. Refuse to watch anything peripherally related to professional sports, like Olympic basketball or the ESPYs. Do not read the sports section of the newspaper. Do not involve yourself in water cooler conversations about last night's game. Do all of these things, and when you get a sizeable enough group doing the same thing, those high paid athletes will be back washing cars and teaching gym class before you know it. Better yet, they could sign up for the IBEW and find out what's it like to belong to real workers' union.
What is slightly ironic is that sports fan whine and complain about the outrageous salaries that they themselves helped propagate, and then they fall back on everyone's favorite arguing point, the salary of the public school teacher. "Alex Rodriguez gets paid 23 million dollars to play a kid's game," they say, "It would take a public school teacher 850 years to earn that much money." This week, with an impending baseball strike looming, someone brought up that same argument to an ESPN sportswriter, and here was the reply:
"Well, since you brought up teachers ... The players (and the owners, for that matter) are doing absolutely nothing but acting in what they think is their self-interest. That is, they're doing what's good for them, with nary a care for anyone else in the world.
"And isn't that what most of us do? You brought up teachers. Why are teachers paid so poorly? Well, part of the reason is that we -- well, not me, maybe not you, but most of us -- are unwilling to pay more taxes even if it means better educations for our children.
"When we look at baseball players and baseball owners, we're merely seeing richer versions of ourselves."
But then again, what do teachers really do? "Instill a child with knowledge." Sounds fairly simplistic to me.