One of the facilities for the 2004 Athens Olympics, expensive but already in ruins in a broke nation
I am an unlikely sports fan, considering that I was not that good at sports, and got picked last in gym for everything except for basketball. That was a sport I love to play (aided by my height and a decent outside shot), but when I went to basketball camp after the 8th grade and got yelled at constantly by the coach, I limited my play to pickup and intramural games.
I grew up in Nebraska in the 1980s, which meant I was a devoted Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. I played band, not football, in high school, but never missed a pep band performance at football and basketball games. I developed a love of baseball and its history, spending hours dissecting the information on the backs of baseball cards and reading books on baseball history. When I went to college, not having a TV in my dorm room was most painful when I wanted to watch Sportscenter or a big game. Even in grad school I lived and died by my school’s basketball team, and made many road trips to spend what little money I had on White Sox tickets. Nowadays I don’t have the time to be a full on sports obsessive, but watch plenty of it, especially baseball.
All that being said, I think it is time to wage war on the sports industrial complex. That doesn’t mean ridding ourselves of sports, just returning them to their proper sphere. These days sports wield an insanely disproportionate amount of power, and nowhere is this more apparent than in higher education. Universities that are slashing departments and majors left and right continue to field football teams. At schools in the upper athletic echelon the “student athletes” have administrators make them fake classes and have students hired to do their work for them. Schools looking to raise their profile build new, larger stadiums and practice facilities. At colleges and high schools athletes are treated like gods, and given free reign to commit crimes and assault women with the protection of the school and local community. Sports are perverting the mission of higher education and lowering its quality while endangering students.
Sports at the professional level is still fetid with the stench of corruption. Pro football players have their brains turned to mush for the entertainment of the masses while team owners refuse to compensate them for their injuries. Professional basketball, football, and baseball teams have all built gleaming new arenas in the last quarter century financed by public money or at least given tax breaks that amount to public financing. This has all occurred at a time when states and localities are slashing school budgets and the social safety net. In Wisconsin Scott Walker proposed a $300 million cut to the state's university, and then turned around and recommended $220 million in tax breaks and incentives to build a new arena for the piss poor Milwaukee Bucks. Whenever teams want new stadiums they hold their city's hostage, threatening to leave and sometimes making good on the promise, as the Seattle Supersonics did.
It's perhaps even worse when it comes to the global showcase events. The International Olympic Committee is a notorious morass of graft and shakedowns and Sepp Blatter's runs FIFA in ways that would make Boss Tweed proud. The Olympics have become advertisements for authoritarian regimes flexing their muscles for the world, and tend to suck the cities that host them dry. Brazil and South Africa have recently dumped their precious resources down the drain rather than improving their societies so that they could construct a bunch of World Cup stadiums. Even worse, Blatter awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in a Bond-villain scenario where stadiums are being built in the desert by unfree laborers dying at a fearsome rate.
So there you have it. The out of control sports industrial complex employs slave labor, undermines higher education, enables rapists, and impoverishes the public sector. Isn't it about time we put a stop to this? Again, there's no need to band sports, or abandon them, but put them back in their rightful place as a side amusement. Cities threatened by teams who want new stadiums need to let them go. Colleges in economic crises need to cut athletics first, and stop paying coaches top dollar. Soccer federations should just abandon FIFA and start something new. If UEFA leaves, FIFA will die. Countries should stop competing to get the Olympics, and turn the tables so that the grafters at the IOC have to go begging others to host the Olympics for them. If enough people stop cooperating with the insane demands of this system, it will be tamed. All that's necessary is the will to do it. It might take some time, but enough universities, cities, and sports federations get the ball rolling, real change is possible.