Athletes are Not Superheroes or Evil Villains. Also, Howard Megdal on The NBA and Labor Rights


As sports fans, many of us have been trained to view athletes as superheroes or villains. The scandal-fed modern news cycle and ESPN’s endless mythologizing makes it easy to remove the human element in regard to professional athletes until they do disturbingly human things like Ray Rice or Michael Vick. Then hold them up as human sacrifices to be burned at the stake. Very few people condone punching women in the face or forcing your dogs to kill each other. It’s easy. And it’s even easier when an athlete who has been endlessly praised is then taken down. You can almost hear the “whoosh-ing” sound of their fall. Psychologically, it should remind you of high school. If sports and sports media enables a widespread popularity contest, An athletic scandal is no different from the popular high school athlete getting suspended from school. Those who envied him and hated how loved he was get to celebrate. Isn’t that what we see…over and over and over?

While few are uncertain about their view of Ray Rice, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gets to plead ignorance, hoping the media moment passes like a thunderstorm. Some are asking for Goodell to get fired, some are hoping he resigns, and many, who still have love for the National Football League, are just waiting until their team plays on Sunday, so they can get back to escaping from the reality of that ugly thing we know as the “human element” and fall back into the superhero/villain routine. Goodell gets the special treatment.

Howard Megdal, writing for Vice Sports, has penned an excellent examination of the NBA and it’s Labor situation and free agency, following the Paul George injury and Marc Cuban’s asinine comments on what should be done about NBA players playing in international competition. Before I excerpt from Megdal’s piece, I’ll mention a news item related to Paul George after the horrific injury he suffered in late July. I had just read Lee Jenkins’ compassionate piece on Paul George and resilience. Then I see that Paul George bought a Ferrari to “lift his spirits.” How is it that an athlete buying a luxury sports car is news? All that I can see it doing is two things: 1) Make people who want to live vicariously through Paul George’s success feel better about themselves. 2) Make people go back to envying and vilifying an athlete/celebrity for buying a ridiculously expensive sports car. This isn’t news. This is the bullshit that we are fed.

Now an excerpt from Megdal’s piece on the NBA and Labor:

Cuban mentioned the NBA’s willingness “to commit what amounts to more than a billion dollars in salaries” to the cause of international basketball. Ah, but which salaries? Player salaries. Mark Cuban’s not committing a damn thing. He doesn’t own his players, as much as his dehumanizing description of human beings as “player salaries” would make you think otherwise.

Those player salaries, by the way, were earned because the league profited from selling the chance to watch those players—in person, on television, intermittently on League Pass when it decides to function—not as some independent entity that, say, Dirk Nowitzki is lucky to have found. Those player salaries, incidentally, that are part of a shrinking percentage of NBA revenue, revenue that keeps on growing and disproportionately flowing back to… Mark Cuban.

Which brings us to the other half of the equation: Whose risk? The player’s risk. Sure, if the best 450 players collectively disappeared from the NBA, the league would have a problem. But any one player? Well, the business model survives. Paul George will miss a season—you can be sure the NBA will make a ton of money this season anyway.

Fun fact, Paul George has a max contract, an Orwellian phrase if one ever existed. Remember, we’re supposed to honor a team’s desires here because they’ve invested so much money in a player. Of course, it is the artificial construct of the salary cap, and the tightly controlled salaries within it, that had an otherworldly player like George limited to five years, $90 million on a “max contract” in the first place. In a true free market, George would make many tens of millions more. Instead, thanks to a swell-for-owners collective bargaining agreement, he’s getting paid like Brian McCann of the New York Yankees. McCann is a fine player, but he’s not even one of the ten best players in Major League Baseball, or close to it.

But of course, the players accepted the current salary cap and a greatly reduced share of total league revenue following the most recent lockout. The common, condescending perspective that players owe their livelihood to the owners helped the owners in the court of public opinion, as it so often does during labor struggles in professional sports. But here we are, with players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony forced to choose between getting paid as close to fair value as the system allows or taking a pay cut to play for a winning team, like Tim Duncan does. Naturally, Duncan is held up as a model without anyone asking “Why on Earth is that a choice he’s forced to make?”

The common refrain: because he makes “enough.” Never mind that we’re talking about money that exists because Duncan and Anthony are so compelling to watch that millions of people the world over tune in to do just that. Never mind that this money, if not spent on Anthony and Duncan, isn’t going to hire more teachers or provide health care to needy children. It’s going into the pockets of owners who were so unhappy with their “more than enough” that they locked out the players and reduced their share of the league’s revenue from 57 percent to around 50 percent.

That’s 50-50—you earn 50 percent by doing things no one else on the planet can, and we’ll earn 50 percent by letting you.

Read the rest here: https://sports.vice.com/article/the-next-nba-labor-battle-is-already-here

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