When I was 8 years old, my dad introduced me to the classic American pastime: baseball. He would throw the ball and I would awkwardly swing my pink bat around, only to hit air. Each time, he smiled and gently told me try again. It took countless hours practicing in my backyard before my bat finally made tentative contact with the ball and it soared. I couldn’t have been happier. That small act of athleticism taught me the noble values of perseverance, dedication and hard work.
But once you move from suburban backyards to roaring stadiums with blinding lights, these values get lost in translation and warped beyond recognition. Professional sports have become a debauchery of what sports are suppose to stand for.
The industry capitalizes on our natural love of sport and competition and twists it into an unhealthy, obsessive affair. Athletes are placed on pedestals from which they are bound to fall. Professional athletes are touted as being more than just individuals playing a game. Football players are “heroes,” soccer stars are “warriors” and baseball players “superhumans.” They are untouchable and can get away with any crime. People love the game enough to excuse some of the deplorable behaviors coming from our so-called heroes such as Ray Rice and his assault case, Oscar Pistorius who shot and killed his girlfriend or Stanford swimmer Brock Turner and his lenient sexual assault punishment.
Teamwork is one of the greatest values sports is supposed to impart, but who needs teamwork when you are the star of the show working to outdo your competitors for the greatest profit? The same values that sports claim to instill in young players is completely disregarded once applied to professionals.
The narrative of hard work and perseverance that sports emphasize quickly twists into how much money can be made instead. Professional athletes are millionaires in a multi-billion dollar business. In 2015, the Los Angeles Dodgers spent more than $300 million on players’ salaries, including $90 million for players not even on the team.
As ironic as it might sound from this side of the television screen, there is no room for team loyalty when players are working for themselves. Fan loyalty is the foundation of the sports industry, yet that relationship is depressingly one-sided.
From the fan’s perspective, unconditional team loyalty is everything. People will continue to support a team regardless of wins and losses, but money skews the competitive edge in favor of richer teams, meaning the entire point of competition is diminished. In the end, we’re just rooting for paychecks from the ultra-wealthy’s version of your everyday board game.
While we sit on the couch watching millionaires toss a ball around, the world continues to move on. Welcome distractions are necessary from time to time, but problems arise when people are unable to separate the distraction from reality. One bad play can put a whole country into a foul mood, when in reality it has no effect on what goes on outside the stadium. When you boil it down, that’s all professional sports are: glorified games. They are nothing more than an escape from the troubles of our daily reality.
Society places so much importance on professional sports that they’ve become integral to our culture. But every once in awhile, we need to take a step back from the bright lights and instant replays, and ask ourselves if we’ve drifted too far from the values we want representing us as a society.
Kristine White is a first year, undeclared major. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @krinstine.