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Professional Sports: The Hidden Greed

“Show me the money,” screamed Rod.  “C’mon Jerry, show me the money!”  We vividly remember this famous line from the hit movie, Jerry Maguire.  The greedy football player, Rod Tidwell, screams these unforgettable lines trying to convince his agent that he will not settle for any less than a top dollar salary as the flashy Arizona Cardinal wide receiver.  This scene exemplifies what has happened to professional sports in recent years.  The focus of professional sports has evolved from one of teamwork and camaraderie to one of avarice and greed.  The specific problems in recent years that have stemmed off this overwhelming greed include exorbitant salaries, lockouts (or work stoppages) in professional sports, and the growing disparity among team payrolls.

Most recognize these issues as major problems; however, others overlook the greed and see validity in the financial aspect of today’s sports world.  They argue that professional sports are thriving and should not be modified.  They also contend that sometimes lockouts are unavoidable and are often the only way to work out problems.  The opposition reasons that professional teams with huge payrolls deserve all the money because they worked hard to get where they are.  They argue that most players work hard to become great athletes and therefore they deserve enormous salaries.  They also plead that lockouts are healthy for professional sports because they help each sport continually evolve and adapt to new problems it faces.   While the opposition does not notice the greed problems greed causes, others do.

Greed is obvious in today’s sports world.  Plain and simple, the salaries of sports figures these days are too high.  In the NBA, Michael Jordan makes over $13 million dollars per year for the Chicago Bulls (Verducci 46).  That means he earns more than 62 times that of the president of the United States and 490 times that of the average high school teacher-not including all of Mr. Jordan’s secondary incomes from advertising and movie-making.  Today, many players hold out for optimal salaries like Jordan’s as long as they can, just to get the extra million dollars.  They are like toddlers, whining and crying until they get the toy they want.

Often when players do not get what they want, they excuse their bad performances by claiming they could have done better if they would have earned that extra million dollars.  Recently, CBS Sports Analyst, Al Michaels put things in perspective when he sarcastically commented on a dropped pass by a Detroit Lions wide receiver.  After the play, Michaels stated, “Well, Robert probably could have made that catch if he had gotten that million dollar contract he held out for, huh?”  This quotation exemplifies the intense greed that goes on in salary arbitration.  Often times a player will hold out for 10 million dollars per year instead of 8 million just because he thinks that he is better than the guy who is making 9 million dollars per year.  Moreover, it is the trend nowadays to simply have the label of being the highest paid player in the league.

Each new season sees the game’s best players compete for that title.  For example, New York Mets’ catcher, Mike Piazza recently signed a seven-year, $91 million offer-the highest ever in major league baseball history…temporarily.  (Verducci 32).  Little did he know that a few weeks later, Albert Belle would sign a 5-year contract for 65 million dollars, making him the highest paid baseball player.  Both Piazza and Belle had fine careers going back in their respective cities but they, like many others, want to win the prize of being the most expensive man in all of baseball.  This incentive is driving salaries, as well as costs for owners, through the roof.  ESPN News recently stated that there now are 8 players in MLB earning more than 10 million dollars per season.  These exorbitant salaries are the exclamation point on the surfacing greed in professional sports-and that is not the only place it has been showing up.  Greed has surfaced in other areas of sports too.

Over the past 5 years, avarice has caused lockouts in Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League, leading to work stoppages in each one.  Baseball’s most recent strike occurred on August 12, 1994 after the players could not agree with the owners’ call for a salary cap.  On September 14, with no hope of reaching an agreement to end the thirty-four day strike, the owners called off the remainder of the regular season and the entire post-season.  The World Series was cancelled that year for only the second time, previously surviving two World Wars and an earthquake.  This dealt the game a terrible blow as attendance totals decreased dramatically.  It ended after 232 days on March 31, 1995.  In addition to MLB’s strike of 1994, is the National Hockey League’s strike troubles.  The NHL experienced a 103-day lockout after the 1994 season ended.  The lockout of the players ended with the NHL Players’ Association ratifying the 6-year contract with the owners.  They decided to play an abbreviated 48-game regular season to be followed by the playoffs (Abert 1).

The two sides compromised on a wide range of issues including free agency, salary arbitration, and the rookie salary schedule.  While MLB and the NHL have both had lockouts in the past five years, the NBA is currently experiencing a strike.  The controversial topics that owners and players cannot find common ground on include marijuana testing, rookie contract terms, and the salary cap.  Prior to this work stoppage, the NBA had never lost a game to a strike or a lockout in its fifty-two year history.  An arbitrator recently ruled that NBA owners would not have to pay players during the lockout, a decision that should have triggered negotiations but has both sides sounding further entrenched.  NBA deputy commissioner, Russ Granik stated, “We’re missing games and losing the season.  I hope that’s significant enough pressure on both sides to come back and play some basketball”  (Licter 1).  If the two sides do not find a mutual agreement, the whole season will be lost and other organizations like the Women’s National Basketball

Association and the American Basketball Association will likely gain attention and prosper in the temporary national spotlight.  Although these work stoppages do illustrate how greed can destroy a sport, they are not the only example of it in professional athletics.
While on the surface, Major League Baseball’s 1998 season appears to have been one of the greatest if not the greatest ever played, greed is evident in the distribution of money among team payrolls. Years from now, fans will reminisce on the season of 1998.  They will remember the dramatic homerun chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the spectacular total of one hundred and twenty-five victories for the New York Yankees, David Wells’s magnificent perfect game, and Cal Ripken’s incredible milestone of 2,632 consecutive games played.  It was a well-rounded season of record chases and milestone achievements.

However, as one peers behind the scenes of what seems to have been baseball’s finest year, problems are found that all stem from one main idea: greed.  The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.  The high payroll ball clubs like the Yankees, Orioles, Indians, and Braves continue to be contenders for the World Series because they can afford to pick up the high priced free agents. Small market teams, such as the Brewers, Expos, and Royals, often develop young talent; however, when the teams can no longer afford the salaries of these superstars, the players move to larger markets.  This year’s World Series is a perfect example.  Richard Licter contends that the New York Yankees have the highest payroll in Major League Baseball and consequently, just won their 24th World Series, sweeping the San Diego Padres 4-0 (Licter 1).  Because of the mismatch in this year’s series, baseball is becoming less and less popular.

In fact, this year’s television ratings were the lowest they have ever been.  In fact, according to Dan McGraw, they have declined 16% since last year’s all-time low.  This year’s quick four-game series was a 15 million-dollar loser for the FOX Network, reflecting the fans’ disinterest in the uneven match-up (McGraw 2).  Despite the homerun race, attendance has dropped in 15 of 28 teams and total attendance is still 10 % below the 1994 pre-strike average.  Not only are fans losing interest in the game but teams are becoming frustrated with the fact that it is virtually impossible for low revenue teams such as the Milwaukee Brewers and Montreal Expos to even think of reaching the World Series.  Will teams like the Brewers ever be given the chance to assemble high quality teams like the Yankees of 1998?  Will they ever be worthy of playing under the lights in October?  Unless something is done to even up the revenues of MLB teams, we may never know.  Players on small market teams will have to buy their tickets to see the World Series just like everyone else until the owners’ approved plan takes full effect.
In a move to help small-market clubs, MLB owners have approved a plan for interim revenue sharing.  The plan offers some small-market teams an additional $4 million next season if the players’ association agrees (ESPNET 1).  “It is a remarkable step and we believe it will be beneficial for the league,” says Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball.  Selig says, “Revenue sharing, if nothing else, has become a part of the way we live and part and parcel of our business” (“Baseball Owners Approve” 1).  The plan calls for the teams to contribute 22% of local revenues, excluding stadium-operating costs, to a central pool.

Clubs below a certain level-such as Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota, will receive money from the pool while the high revenue teams like New York and Baltimore will contribute the most to the pool (ESPNET 2).  Until revenue sharing is enacted fully, the only way for small-market clubs to increase their chances in reaching post-season play is for them to bid for a new stadium.  The Cleveland Indians are the perfect example of this.  Their former stadium, Wright Stadium, was old; not old in the classic sense like Wrigley Field, just plain old.  The new stadium, Jacob’s Field, in itself turned the club around.  Shannon Dortch reports that the new stadium contains two decks with three levels of suites, two private club pavilions, two restaurants, and center field bleachers.

It is a dream in paradise that just happens to house a ballpark.  All the amenities of this brand new ballpark attract thousands of new fans and increase the revenue, allowing the owners to spend more on quality players.
Although many believe professional athletics to be thriving, several problems are found when one looks behind the scenes of today’s sports world and all of them stem from the towering greed.  At one time, professional athletics was that of camaraderie and intimacy.  Now it is that of greediness and rapacity.  This evolution has given birth to the immense salaries of today’s athletes, seemingly never-ending strikes, and the disproportionate payrolls among today’s teams.  Moreover, the catch line of today’s top athletes has become, “Show me the money,” verifying the selfishness that they have demonstrated in recent years.  It is not too late for professional sports to overcome this bitter greed and restore its once respectable image.  Players and owners must move fast to solve these problems though, or they will lose everything.

Works Cited

Abert, Daniel.  “Pact Ends NHL Lockout.” Monthly Labor Review 118 (1995): 76.
“Baseball Owners Approve Interim Revenue Sharing.” Available Online: www.espnet.sportzone.com/editors/mlb/features/0321meeting.html
Bergman, Ray.  “My Baseball Dream.” Baseball Parks 1 (1996): 1.
Dortch, Shannon.  “The Future of Baseball.” American Demographics 18 (1996) 25-30.
Jerry Maguire. Dir. Cameron Crowe. Perf. Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr. Tri-Star Pictures, 1996.
Licter, Richard. “Magical Season.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 12 Oct. 1998, 1.
McGraw, Dan. “Baseball Celebrates, Fans Yawn.” US News. 2 Nov.  1998, 1.
NFL on CBS. Writ. Tom Weinert. Perf. Al Michaels, Henry Tevers, and Brian Green. CBS, New York. 26 Nov. 1998.

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