The good and ill of professional sports
I watched Last Chance U over the last couple of days. It's a Netflix Original documentary series about a junior college football team. It was very interesting, if somewhat bittersweet at the end because you actually connect with these people. The production is very much there (as expected from Netflix) and at only six hour-long episodes you can't say this is too much of a commitment. It is very good and definitely worth the watch.
Though it isn't directly addressed in the series, I always question myself about watching sports. On one hand, it is a gruesome meat-grinder of a thing that is simply done for our entertainment. Particularly in football this is noteworthy with the NFL being such a terrible organization for players, the serious medical risks the athletes have and the very few people who actually receive and can maintain the success plus the financial burdens that come when they actually get successful. Many an athlete have gotten rich quick and basically squandered everything they had. Add to that the fact that much of the revenue that is generated by sports is trapped into its system. The documentary opens by showing the contrast of a rather run-down town with almost no businesses while they have a 5,000 seat brand now football stadium, and how many states are there where the highest paid government official is a college football coach? Meanwhile, student athletes are prohibited from being paid by the NCAA.
On the other hand, for some of them this really is the only chance they might have at success in their life, particularly some of them who come from very dire circumstances. As such, perhaps professional sports are just a symptom of a more general societal ill, where we value our personal entertainment more than the education or even the basic welfare of our fellow human beings. And does that in-and-of itself make me a hypocrite for liking hockey and professional wrestling?
Or perhaps professional sports is simply a necessary consequence of an advanced society where warfare is at least hopefully seldom a necessity and physically gifted people have a drive to compete and find who is better at being physically gifted without murdering each other (again: hopefully). Eventually there will be some interest and where there's interest there will be a revenue stream somehow, easiest of all of course being betting. As much as amateur sport is proclaimed to be noble, if there is sport there will eventually, consequentially be professional sport and with that comes the commodetization of athletes. I struggle with this though since it seems a Gamergate-esque excuse of "the invisible hand of the market" to sweep problems under the rug.
I for my part am not sure how I reconcile my love of watching sports with the knowledge of how the sausage is made.
Anyway, that's just the things that shoot through my head. How about you?
Football seems to be unable to change.
Better that you do, in fact - some outsider rocks up, starts talking shit, people are going to tell them to fuck off. But another fan, who people have watched games with, chatted with, hung out with, they'll listen, and maybe they'll pick it up and help do something about it. It won't do much, but it's not nothing. Every little bit helps.
The NFL is actually right behind them. Their problem that they are so bad to begin with, they can't escape. You can't clean mud.
Baseball is the old fuddy duddy that will barely change a thing. It's not helping them.
The NCAA is really the worst of all. The problem is that they have one set of rules which actually make a lot of sense for all of the NCAA sports that don't make any money, like Division III lacrosse or whatever. But when they apply those same rules to men's football or basketball, which bring in millions of dollars in revenue, it amounts to exploitation. South Park covered it pretty well.
It would be completely solved if all those college teams were kicked out of the NCAA and forced to create a professional minor league, like the baseball minor leagues. They could also disassociate them from universities almost completely. Just have them pay the school a large licensing fee for use of their trademark.
With many sports, I don't see a problem with the athletes themselves getting into even dangerous sports, because it feels like there is some obvious boundaries in terms of knowing what can damage your body. For example, nobody starts boxing professionally not knowing they could be knocked out. It's part of the sport! The sport has terminology about that very thing! Same with MMA and wrestling and other full contact sports.
But football just isn't fun for me to watch any more, knowing the damage the players are taking. It's not even a risk of damage, it's just damage. And nobody who is getting long term brain damage now decided to get into their current position knowing the risks.
The idea that "It's a good thing because it's their only way out of poverty" is real bullshit, because long term physical harm shouldn't be anyone's ticket out of poverty.
If sports are going to be the answer to poverty, there are plenty to chose from that are waaaaaaay safer and just as skillful and entertaining as American football. If the college system just said "You know what? Next year everyone currently in a football program is going to take up Rugby Sevens" then the money would have to go somewhere, either into rugby or all the other non-life-threatening sports.
For example, ESPN has an exclusive 12 year deal to broadcast the college football playoffs. They paid almost $6 billion for this deal, none of which goes to players.
If college football goes away. ESPN does not give that money to the BCS anymore. ESPN could only afford that in the first place because they know they will get more than that in advertising revenue. They won't be able to replace that revenue because the car companies aren't going to pay that much to advertise during a rugby match. They would need to broadcast something else in that time slot that would get as many eyeballs, and there's no such thing.
So what would happen is all the money would stay in corporate wallets and be spent advertising elsewhere. Due to the decrease in advertising inventory, it might actually raise prices for advertising on other sports somewhat.
Regardless, the money won't be going to other college sports.
I meant that if the system changes away from the current system but to another system where money goes to poor-but-athletic young people to help lift them out of poverty, then the sports they play should be non-violent or non-dangerous.
There are enough hockey fights on youtube to last me the rest of my life.
I used to play hockey as a kid, a leagle called the squirts. I also watched hockey with my dad, fighting and checking were strictly forbidden, so naturally it's all I wanted to do. I'd then go home and watch the pros fight and it was just the cool guys I looked up to doing their thing.
While it's unquestionably worse for the players, I cant help but like it. There's a part of me that wants to be back on the ice with my helmet and gloves off grabbing another dudes jersey and hitting him. It's a part of me I'd rather be rid of, but a part of me nevertheless.
I fully support the removal of fights from hockey, my brain is in control here and my better judgement wins out. That doesn't mean I won't be sad to see it go even as I cast my vote for its removal.
Historical sports are particularly brutal. There seemed to be a genuine wanton disregard for human life and personal safety, and even those outside of poverty engaged in really really stupid shit. Knightly tournaments were accessible only to the rich by the 16th century, and jousting? Jousting was a very wealthy man's game, and that shit will kill you dead.
There is also often something of a disregard for personal safety. Athletes will push themselves to the limit and risk injury and/or death to attain glory. And you know what, I have to say, the adrenaline rush of physical competition is nothing short of exhilarating. A proper element of danger puts you on edge, and makes you hyper-aware in a sort of terrified-animal-trying-to-survive way. As fucked up as it is, it's also fun, because you feel alive and powerful.
Honestly, the adrenaline fix is like a drug.
So I think it's fair to say that some athletes are really somewhat addicted to the competition, the thrill of it. The problem arises because someone exploits that for money, but it would exist without that financial incentive.
It's a vicious cycle rooted in self-destruction, I think. Actually, I would say that today's raised awareness for the plight of college athletes and the long-term damage caused by some sports is a sign of progress. We know the problems, and people are actually starting to try to fix it.
If there was, would I use it? no.
do I still wanna fight on the ice? yes.
vedo una problema.
One person featured was someone who had given up wingsuit jumping, and described it like giving up drugs. He wanted to not die, but had to work really hard to give up one of the most deadly sports ever invented!
Now imagine this sport was offered to young high school students as a way to possibly lift themselves out of poverty.
Football isn't so immediately harmful as hitting a cliff face at 180kmph, of course, but the addiction to the adrenaline rush of possible self-destruction is just another factor why it should be banned for under 21 year olds and non-professionals.
The under-21 segment, though - that I could get behind. We have a long proud tradition of using organized athletics to exploit young people for our benefit, and it's pretty awful. "Here, promising young person - subject yourself to bodily harm for the years you should be learning other skills, and just maybe you'll learn to make money at subjecting yourself to harm!"
But on the flipside, there are a lot of benefits conferred by team-based athletics, not the least of which are learning leadership skills and cooperative achievement. There are concrete benefits to taking some of these risks. This part, I think, is not in question. So what to do?
I really do think you could nuke the NCAA and take care of a lot of these issues. If a major sport wants to train and recruit athletes, they can run their own goddamn school. The existence of the NCAA means we start pushing kids in early high school (and honestly, even earlier) so that they can get a scholarship so they can have a shot at the pros. We decide their fate from an early age, and it's pretty fucked up.
Back in the day what would happen is there would be some rival schools. One of the schools would go out and recruit/pay some ringers and put them on the field. These weren't students. They were professionals. They could get the win, but it defeated the entire purpose of competition between students who were just doing athletics on the side.
So they made a rule. You can't pay your student athletes. It's amateur only. Just a competition for school pride and such. That rules makes a ton of sense for every single NCAA sport except for basketball, and football. It even makes sense for basketball and football at almost every school that offers it. It only doesn't make sense at the relatively small percentage of division 1 schools that make enormous amounts of money on these sports and have huge stadiums.
Yet, that same rule, you can't have paid professional players on your team, is the rule that results in exploitation at that small percentage of schools.
The fundamental problem is that baseball and ice hockey have their own professional minor leagues that matter. They don't need college baseball and college hockey, so those don't end up being good enough to rake in enough money to be exploitative.
The NBA's d-league is a joke, and there is no professional minor league of NFL football that I am aware of. They are exploiting the universities into providing a minor league system and saving them the cost of building stadiums, hiring coaches, etc. But meanwhile the NCAA rules which are great 90% of the time allow those schools to get rich off of it, and only the students are exploited, because no pros allowed. This is college sports, not minor league sports.
The solution is to keep the NCAA, but force the NBA and NHL to create real minor leagues. Create a path for athletes to get into their pro leagues that allows them to get paid while in the minors.
The ban I was proposing is more along the lines of banning organized exploitation of under 21 year olds. Don't allow national sport organizations of dangerous sports.
If kids want to play football in their own time? Great! But don't sign them up to massive businesses that make billions where they get zero, both for their health and for education and for their finances. Rugby. Soccer. Lacrosse. Juggling. Whatever. They have all the health and team-building and leadership benefits, but with none of the repetitive "bodies together at high speed" problems.
1. Poverty effectively removing the "optional" side of the decision.
2. Actively encouraging riskier behavior as a profit motive for third parties (e.g., the NCAA, sharing in the reward but not the risk/consequences).
3. Misapprehension of the true risk or consequences.
"Does your life suck? Drink this shitty beer and you'll have a good time!"
It's not exactly the same thing, but it's still a stark exploitation of poverty for someone else's pecuniary gain. Absolutely. The problems in American football are many, and it has specific risks that are greater than comparable activities (though I'd like to see some analysis of rugby, because I have to imagine that it has a fairly similar set of issues).
But Rym's point #3 drives particularly hard at a key component of the issue: I can't think of a culture that doesn't have some kind of widely-celebrated competitive athletic activity. By that same token, I also can't think of a single one of those cultures that doesn't actively downplay the risks inherent in said activity (or activities) while emphasizing the "glory" aspects of competition.
Really, any high-bar athletic activity is destructive over a long period of time. In order to excel, you push yourself to your limits - and this substantially increases the risk of some major injury or degradation of the body. Retired athletes frequently suffer in life because of the damage they sustained and ignored when they were younger.
But we exalt people for doing this very thing, and they get social currency for doing it, so we have a great tendency to minimize our conversations about the risks inherent in what we do. We'll talk about obvious visible injuries, but - for example - long-term joint damage is probably something you'd like to know about when you're 20 and taking stupid risks.
I'm not even sure I'd call it "misapprehension," because we go out of our way to give people very little reason to think about anything other than the glory of the competition.
It is really very different. Nobody is LITERALLY saying "If you drink this drink, and you do it a lot and are good at it, you may be a multimillionaire in the future."
With highschool and college football players, they are literally told that. You can see an abstract here: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/42/7/595.abstract
"Collegiate rugby union injury patterns in New England: a prospective cohort study
Conclusions: Collegiate game injury rates for rugby were lower than rates recorded previously in men’s professional club and international rugby and lower than reported by the National Collegiate Athletic Association Injury Surveillance System for American football, but similar to rates reported for men’s and women’s soccer in 2005–06."
So, at the college level, rugby is similar to soccer. Not really a surprise!
Most of the serious injuries in Rugby are spinal injuries from the scrums. That's why earlier in this thread I suggested rugby sevens as a college alternative for those who want a run-and-throw-and-kick-and-tackle sport to pursue until they are old and strong enough to get into professional American Football. In rugby sevens I think there are just three players per side involved in the scrum, not eight like in rugby union.