Posts Tagged ‘athletics’

The NCAA is Hypocritical About Pay for Sports vs Other Activities

April 18, 2012

In the long-gone days when I was in college, I competed in many civic public speaking tournaments, sponsored by such organizations as the Rotary, Toastmasters, Lion’s Club, and even the city judicial oratorical contest. I won a number of cash prizes; nothing major, but up to $100, which was quite a bit in those days. I also competed in inter-collegiate debate and public speaking competitions. Another inter-collegiate competition I participated in, again winning certain prizes, was contract bridge. As a matter of fact, my primary side income during college was working as a professional bridge player at a local club. This involved teaching lessons, playing “rubber” bridge as a form of gambling, and being paid by clients to play with them in tournaments. At the time, my girlfriend played for the school orchestra, which participated in inter-collegiate musical competitions, and she also played for money for small local orchestras and at a few restaurants.

This is not meant as a form of bragging (well, not totally!), but rather setting the stage to ask the question: Why should my girlfriend and I be permitted to make money in the exact forms of competitions we were involved in as a college students, when students who were on the inter-collegiate sports teams were forbidden to take a cent, in any form or manner, related to their sport, and even other sports?

Frankly, it really doesn’t take a lot of research or contemplation to figure out why. It’s simply that no or very few spectators will pay to watch those events, and there is no outside organization, such as television or radio, willing to pay colleges money in order to broadcast or otherwise make money from those other collegiate activities. In actual fact, there are really very few inter-collegiate sports that the broadcast media want, because they are not supported by commercial messages. Obviously football and basketball are, and certain major events such as the College World Series of baseball, but really not many. Of course, the NCAA, as dictated by the college presidents, insist that the broadcast media pick up many other sports as part of the package because they want to promote those sports (read: want to pretend that they value them just as much as they value the actual revenue producing sports), but how much play does the media give those other sports, and how big of an audience do they actually draw, paying or not?

Naturally, the NCAA can’t be “hypocritical” about total amateurism versus a “student athlete” making money in any of those other sports, which oddly includes golf, which is about as athletic as the contract bridge I used to play. If one sport is banned from the participants making money and still playing at the collegiate level, then they must all be banned. Frankly, I don’t think the NCAA really gives a damn if the athletes in volleyball or tennis or water polo play for money and then play for their college team. However, it would look really bad if they were allowed to when the “major sports” athletes were not allowed, so the NCAA has to make a blanket policy.

But not for other activities, as I’ve pointed out. What, really, is the difference? Money. That’s it. The NCAA makes money off of certain major sports, makes not a dime from any other type of activity that college students do, and so they have to create a way to control the product so that they can maximize their profits.

This goes way back in history to the pretense of “amateurism” in the Olympics, tennis tournaments, and other sporting events. Both the Olympics and tennis were making hundreds of millions from gate receipts and broadcast rights without paying the athletes a dime (well, the tennis tournaments did give players “expense money” under the table, but it wasn’t a lot). Eventually, the professionals boycotted the major tennis tournaments until they forced promoters to give them prize money, and the Olympics “allowed” professionals to join in, but for the same pay as the amateurs: medals.

There have been countless articles concerning the hypocrisy of the NCAA itself, as well as the universities, making billions of dollars through broadcast contracts, gate receipts, souvenir sales, sponsor endorsements, and other income streams, without allowing any athlete to openly accept one penny–even a free lunch from a recruiter–for his or her efforts. There have been countless articles about how much the coaches make, the ADs make, and even the trainers make, while the athletes must sacrifice their bodies, perhaps even their minds, for a few cheers and a pat on the back. This article is not about those things.

This article is meant to ask one question: if college students can participate in inter-collegiate events in any other field of endeavor, and then accept pay to do the exact same thing out in the real world, what gives the NCAA the right to forbid athletes from having the same right as any other student? There is only one difference, and that’s money. The NCAA can mouth pious sermons about the sanctity of amateurism in sports until they are blue in the face, but I only have three words in response: hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites.

Six Factors that Make a Game a Sport – and why Golf is NOT a Sport!

April 3, 2012

There is a great confusion about what makes a game into a “sport”. Part of the problem of determining what is or isn’t a sport is that there is perhaps no clear definition as to what actually makes a “game” into a sport. Allow me to help! IMALTHO (in my admittedly less than humble opinion…), there are six major criteria that separate a mere “game” from an actual sport. I’ve listed them in order of importance. As a means of explaining why certain games are indeed not a sport, we can take golf as an example when applied to these criteria.

1. Athleticism

The most important element of a true sport is athleticism, which revolves around movement. The mantra of every coach is “move your feet”. Not only do golfers not move their feet, they try to limit all bodily movement. Athleticism involves instantaneous physical reaction to changing conditions. For example, a luger may seem to lie quietly on a sled, but he or she is reacting constantly with their entire body to the physics of the turns and the imperfections of the ice. Golf seems to be the antithesis to athleticism in that it involves the refinement of extremely limited, repetitive movement. When have you ever heard or read, “Wow! That was a really athletic shot or move” about a golfer? Never. This is not to say that golfers can’t be athletes, it’s just the game itself doesn’t require it.

2. Speed and Strength

In all real sports, speed and strength give great advantages. Even driving off the tee, strength does not play a major role, and being quick or strong never won a golfer a match. Technique, including leverage and timing, are much more important in generating club head speed and driving the ball a long way. Otherwise, the biggest players would always have the longest drives. But just look at how many small baseball players are on the leader board of homeruns. In tennis, it’s the same: the biggest servers are almost invariably the tallest players.

3. Injury

In any real sport, sad but true that the higher level you play at the more at-risk you become for injury. Not just the “major” sports: field hockey, tennis, soccer, ice skating, equestrienne, etc., all produce their share of directly related injuries, from sprained ankles to deaths. Other than perhaps some back injury or getting conked in the head from another golfer, there are not many injuries directly related to playing golf.

4. The Impact of Others

In a real sport, you are directly impacted by others and by your environment. In golf, there is no one hitting or throwing a ball at you. There is no one sticking a hand in your face or some fifteen-hundred pound horse ignoring your commands. Forget the elements as an adversary; you could be taking a walk in the park (without the bother to hit a motionless little ball) and be bothered by rain and wind, perhaps even to the point of slipping and hurting yourself. Taking a stroll is not considered a sport. In fact, many duffers don’t even bother to walk the course, they drive carts.

5. Conditioning

Not that every athlete is in top-notch condition–even if they should be!–but even the most well-conditioned golfer is not going to improve his or her game because of her conditioning. There are many top-level golfers who lost the battle of the bulge long ago. In highly competitive sports, great conditioning often makes the difference over skill. Although many golfers work out these days, there are still many successful professionals who do not.

6. Age and gender

In any real sport, 45 is ancient. Most professional athletes are retired long before the age of 40. Because speed and strength are important, women cannot compete directly with men, although in many sports the defining qualities are agility and grace. In golf, teenage girls have competed in the same field as men with some success, and former great males have made semi-successful comebacks in their mid-fifties. They may not have won those tournaments, but the fact that they could even be competitive shows how unimportant the criteria of a sport are to playing golf.


Other than President Eisenhower’s passion that initially catapulted the game into the public eye, what makes golf so popular is that virtually anyone, regardless of age, physical condition, or lack of coordination, can play the game. The game is you against the course, so skill and success become quite relative. Some years ago the IOC actually considered contract bridge as a possible Olympic “sport”. Bridge is highly complicated, mentally challenging, and requires great concentration and a sort of endurance. That also describes golf. Neither one are sports.

Professional Athletes Are Entertainers, Not Heroes

March 26, 2012

Perhaps one of the most abused words in sports journalism is “hero”, or perhaps “heroic”. The reason it is abused is not because it’s overused-which it is-but because it’s so totally inappropriate. After all, the journalists, whether they be bloggers, periodical pundits or talking heads, are talking about athletes. They are NOT talking about heroes.

Certainly, athletes sacrifice much in the way of time, effort and sweat to accomplish their often amazing feats. Almost all athletes suffer injury and go through intense pain in order to play their game. But they are doing it for the love of the game, and perhaps for that big payday, not because another person will stay alive, or stay healthy, or enjoy freedom, or enjoy anything more than perhaps a transitory thrill at watching their accomplishments. That is dedication, and perhaps courage, but it is certainly not true heroism. Hitting a home run when the athlete is being paid millions to hit it is simply doing their job, not being “heroic”.

What is a Hero?

A hero should be someone who puts it on the line for others, whatever “it” may be. Sometimes, it is actually life and limb they are risking to serve others, such as a soldier or a would-be rescuer. Police and firefighters are often heroes. Sometimes, it can be much less obvious, such as a parent who takes an extra job to have enough money to finance her child’s dream, or a teacher who signs up to teach at a tough inner-city school although he could be making a better salary at a wealthy suburban school.

If it was simply the abuse of the word when applied to athletes, then this would be a squabble about semantics, not a serious article. But that is actually the least of the disturbing element about the abuse of the word. The serious issue is that those journalists are actually trying to make heroes out of those athletes, that is, someone whom a young person should idolize and emulate. In other words, they are trying to make them into heroic figures, because a true hero SHOULD be admired and emulated as a person.

Well, most of them are certainly not heroic, and many of them are not even people you would want your child to be seen with in public, let alone to worship and imitate. There are so many stories in the media these days that it’s not necessary to repeat them here. Tales of domestic violence, public drunkenness, weapons in strip clubs and even locker rooms, illegitimate children and sexual addictions, public displays of rudeness towards coaches, owners and fans, fights in locker rooms or on the field, and so on, are almost daily occurrences. And those are only the stories that make the news.

Professional Athletes are Entertainers

As soon as an athlete becomes a professional, they become an entertainer. After all, they produce nothing but the pleasure of watching their performance, which is the very description of an entertainer. Unless a person is a diehard gambler, there is in reality nothing but satisfaction or dissatisfaction riding on the outcome. Why is it that we treat an athlete any differently from any other entertainer? Yet we do.

The tabloids love actors, singers, comedians, dancers, and other performing artists, because we can mock their lifestyles as well as their onstage antics. We can be shocked and titillated by their frivolous affairs, as much as we may be enraptured by their professional performances. Yet we do not proclaim even the greatest of performances to be “heroic”, and very few people seriously consider a performing artist to be a true role model, someone who stands for decency, honesty, strength of character, and an otherwise admirable lifestyle. But that is exactly the way in which the media love to portray famous athletes!

How about when an athlete donates large sums of money to a charity or sets up a foundation that helps those in need? That makes them a philanthropist, but not a hero. After all, for the most part it’s only money and some time, not any personal risk. And, quite often, the athlete’s agent, or perhaps their contract, calls for them to “give back to the community” for PR purposes, so it may not even be their idea-or their desire.

That’s not to say an athlete can’t be heroic. There have been numerous other stories about athletes risking their lives to save others, and that indeed made them heroic. The story of Patrick Daniel “Pat” Tillman is probably the best known. A professional football player who left his lucrative career and enlisted in the United States Army after the September 11 attacks, Tillman served in multiple tours of combat before he was killed in action. Regardless of how that may have happened, Tillman gave his life for his country and his fellow citizens.

Save the Word for Those Who Deserve It

However, what an athlete does on the field of play is not heroic. So, journalists of all ilk, let us use the terms that are appropriate. Call them strong, and perhaps courageous in battling through injury to earn their multi-million dollar salaries. Call them fleet, graceful, powerful, acrobatic, nimble, and by all means incredibly athletic. But, please, do not call them heroic. Save that term for the people who really deserve it. And save your adulation for the people whose contributions to our society are truly heroic, and that we really should hold up on pedestals and admire, and try to emulate.