Tuesday, October 2, 2012

There Is No "Home Team" Anymore

Sean Ewart

They don't love you.
The stands are packed with thousands of onlookers decked out in memorabilia and cheering for the home team. That the team is neither from their home town nor composed of people from the area is irrelevant. The stadium is filled with cheering and the sounds of cameras snapping as the athletes run onto the field. They are raking in thousands of dollars every minute. By the end of the game, many of them will have made more in three hours than the average American family makes in a year. Their owners will have made even more. This scenario plays out hundreds of times a year in front of billions of people around the world.

To say that professional sports are absurd is to merely state the obvious. Few people would disagree. Professional sports, however, are not only absurd, but dangerously indicative of a culture that is willing to sycophantically prostrate itself to the graven image of consumerism. Professional sports are less about athleticism than they are about advertising and profit margins that are unthinkable – and a population credulous enough to literally buy into it.

The 2012 National Football League debacle involving scab replacement referees brought in to pressure the NFL Referees Association to settle on a contract deal is the quintessential parable of the excesses of professional sports. The refs wanted higher salaries and a better retirement package. But this is not the story of the working man pitted in a bitter struggle against the oppressive iron heel of grinding exploitation. After three weeks of unqualified refs working in the stead of the “professionals,” a disaster apparently so shocking that President Obama felt he needed to chime in, the NFL and its referees decided on a deal that includes astronomical salary hikes.

By 2019 the refs will see their pay rise from $149,000 per year to $205,000. And that’s for a part time job. With benefits. This isn’t to say that that sort of money is never justified, but keep in mind that, at the end of the day, we are talking about people supervising a game revolving around a synthetic pig skin. This is not rocket science.

And worse, while the NFL referee’s battled to get a raise, economic mobility for most Americans is stagnate at best. Why is that story not grabbing headlines?

And the NFL referee lockout isn’t the end of the story. From the Yankees, whose team salary is an astounding $195,998,004, to Tiger Woods, the first athlete to score a billion dollars, the name of the game isn’t athleticism. Professional sporting events are exercises in corporate branding. No matter who wins or loses, the industry makes it rich. And it’s supported by suckers who fall for the illusion. The NY Giants are based in Jersey! Only two members of the Yankee’s active roster are even from New York! 

On a global level, the sports industry takes in an astonishing $480-$620 billion a year. (Unsurprisingly, soccer is by far the largest global market.)

The issue isn’t sports. Sports are fine, and often exciting, activities that should be encouraged. But professional sports, sports that are for profit, reap billions by creating the illusion of an athletic competition. Lifting the curtain and a predatory system is revealed that uses the language and symbolism of the “home team” to line its pockets. Only organized religion has devised a better scam.

The fact is, professional sport is a system that preys upon the weakness of the human mind to form loyalties based upon the “us vs. them” delusion. There is no “home team” anymore. There are only corporate entities that derive revenue based on that ideal – and crowds credulous enough to be taken in.

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