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We Can Live Without Leagues

Posted on Jul 17, 2011
AP / Mary Altaffer

NBA Commissioner David Stern, right, and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver speak to reporters.

By Mark Heisler

Now is the summer of our discontent?

Your ordinary June is slow enough when the NBA Finals end and you notice a silence has fallen over the land.

From September, when the NFL starts, to April, when the Final Four ends, we never have fewer than four professional leagues going, counting those purporting to be amateurs like the NCAA.

Not that we can’t handle it with umpteen cable channels, streaming video on our cells, et al.

These days, hip fans tune out the season as a necessary evil that provides the needed revenue and salary, before the post-season, the only time anything counts.


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(See: LeBron James, now deemed the king of chokers, after running No. 1-1-2 in the last three MVP races.)

Unfortunately, from now until the NFL openers, baseball is the only game in town, in its anticlimactic phase between Opening Day and the Midsummer Classic (or, depending on your level of interest, the Fall Classic).

(No, I’m not counting women’s World Cup soccer even if ESPN, which needs the programming, does. Last Sunday’s stirring U.S. victory got a 2.6 overnight, twice as good as the tournament’s best to that point, but lower than the NHL Finals averaged for seven games.) 

This particular June, of course, is an even greater challenge.

Baseball is off to a downbeat start, hampered by bad weather—gee, who imagined that would happen if they kept starting earlier?—and more palace intrigue as Commissioner Bud Selig’s former protégé, deadbeat Dodger owner Frank McCourt, fights him for control of the team.

Golf has no Tiger Woods to dump on.

Ohio State, and by inference college football, is in mid-scandal after already weathering the scandal about Auburn University’s Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, whose father shopped Cam’s services, looking for something in the $175,000 range for what would prove to be one year.

Roger Clemens is back on trial. (Again, what did he do? Oh right, it was just steroids.)

And, of course, lockouts in the NFL and NBA!

Except for the agony of having to hear about billionaires whose teams are hobbies and the millionaires they oppress (and, worse, having to cover the NBA on my day job), I would say “two down, two to go!”

If only they would really shut down, and take baseball, the NHL and all other leagues that are so sorely tested with them.

We can live without them. No, really.

I’m as big a consumer as they have. All I do at home is lie on my couch and watch sports and movies.

When there are no sports, I just watch more movies!

How hard was that?

On the other hand, how long can anyone endure this bullshit?

If bad times bring out the best in ordinary people, sports labor—now there’s a contradiction in terms—brings out the worst in the privileged lives of owners and players.

If owners are imperious, players entitled and the press loony in normal times, they really make horses’ asses of themselves in labor negotiations.

It’ll be a long time before anyone tops Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in an owner-player meeting, sneering at Peyton Manning:

“Do I have to show you how to read a revenue statement, son?”

And, “What do you know about player safety?”

Happily, fellow owners got Richardson out of there before he began reminiscing about plantation life.

Actually, NFL players are the closest thing professional sports has to an oppressed class, one with shorter careers and far more bodily damage.

Years ago, I covered the Raiders, whose D-line coach was Earl Leggett, the Bear stalwart in the ’60s.

He looked 100 pounds over his listed playing weight, 265. He walked down stairs sideways with knees that no longer let him do it front-ways.

At that, Earl reached 75 before he passed away in 2008. A 1994 study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found NFL linemen had an average life expectancy of only 52.

Yes, there are real issues in sports.

No, they don’t come up a lot in labor talks, which are more about money.

We just saw NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fine and suspend every pass rusher who looked crossways at a quarterback.

Having ensured his players’ safety, Goodell turned around and tried to add two games to their schedule.

Not that modern players aren’t treated with more respect than their counterparts were in 1963 when Green Bay’s All-Pro center, Jim Ringo, hired an agent, who went in to negotiate with the sainted Vince Lombardi ... who told him he had just traded his client to Philadelphia, where Ringo would make three more Pro Bowls.

Aside from that, the ’60 were, as we said then, groovy.

Today’s Internet-driven, sensation-seeking press is a commissioner’s dream, made for labor posturing, taking any dire hint as an opportunity to assume the worst, leading to an unprecedented buildup for the summer: two years of doomsday scenarios predicting that the NFL and NBA seasons were endangered.

In real life, the NFL owners climbed off their high horse the moment the union decertified, dropping their 18-game season, and are now close to a face-saving device, er, agreement, in time to open training camps on schedule.

The NBA owners actually have problems, as opposed to the Vanity Lockout by NFL owners, who, according to Forbes, averaged a $33 million profit last season.

It’s just that the NBA issues aren’t as dire as Commissioner David Stern says they are.

NBA owners operate close to the blade, in no small part because the rich teams (Lakers, Knicks, Bulls and, yes, Clippers) are obliged to put so little into the vestigial revenue-sharing plan ($49 million anually compared with baseball’s $450 million).

With small-market owners militant to the point of rising up against their commissioner, Stern may feel obliged to miss November to show his guys he went as far as he could.

For what it’s worth, my bet is that’s all the NBA will miss.

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By radson, July 20, 2011 at 8:02 pm Link to this comment

Billy Pilgrim thats one hell of a funny post and it reminds me of a dear family member that would definately relate to what you wrote .hahahahah


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By Inherit The Wind, July 19, 2011 at 3:10 pm Link to this comment

“Sports” is entertainment. Nothing more. Why does TruthDig care?

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By Ben Staples, July 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment
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Fahgeddabout all these leagues.  Enjoy tennis championships (but beware, NBC works hard to ruin the broadcating).  Enjoy Le Tour de France.

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By wbelote, July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here is a proposal for pro sports that’s not on the table but maybe should be.  Take some large percentage of the money generated and do something for society besides make United Way commercials. 

Players should get a very good salary, (by normal standards), pension and health care for life.  Owners get operating expenses and some pocket money, (it’s a hobby for most of them).

The communities get some desperately needed revenue.  Hell, you could drastically lower ticket prices and let average guys have a chance to be at the games.

The essence of sports is a beautiful thing.  Let’s give it a more meaningful role than mere entertainment.

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By CJ, July 18, 2011 at 6:26 am Link to this comment

I’ve found a whole new sport over the last four years that I’d like to recommend to Heisler: cycling. Less money, less R&R piped all along the route like in stadiums and arenas, less military presence, no singing of nationalist anthems, no charge to stand roadside and watch, and if available on TV like the Tour de France everyday every stage on Versus, a travelogue to boot, if/when watching pedaling gets a little dull. And one seldom, if ever, hears of contract disputes, let alone of greedy team owners vs. greedy team riders. (Not that pro riders don’t make a damn fine living. But nothing like Lebron James or Tom Brady or Sidney Crosby or Albert Puljos.)

There are higher-paid riders who do switch teams often enough, while many teams have trouble finding any sponsors at all. One U.S. team, HTC Highroad, is currently trying to find a new sponsor, and the team is one top-notch pro cycling team, currently cleaning up at the Tour this year with Mark Cavendish. While a French team (Europcar, a relatively low-cost one) is in the yellow jersey currently. And now that Lance is long gone and so the Tour less predictable…

The so-called doping scandal is pure hypocrisy, especially in the presence of our four major sports, where doping is just as common, probably more so. Drug testing in the four major sports is less common than in cycling. (But yes, as Armstrong apparently proved—per Tyler Hamilton—it’s not that hard to cheat on the testing.)

Cycling is my sports cure, having had just about enough of the NBA, the NFL and sometimes even the NHL, albeit the NHL is a lot better than the first two, while I never got the point of baseball at all, George Carlin, notwithstanding. The Stanley Cup playoffs were very good this year, though still playing June? (Lousy Canucks!)

Heisler’s right about ongoing disputes, the NFL’s something of a joke, the NBA’s more serious. That is, if the term, “serious,” can be applied to overpaid activities involving playing with balls of various sizes and shapes. Or with bicycles, except that there’s not nearly the money there…yet.

Television happened to the four major sports, and to college football. The NHL is the best of the four because still not too influenced by television, while no one watches cycling, thankfully. I’m now sorry I mentioned it. Please don’t watch, even if it is—secretly—the best, far and away most competitive test of the body, and mind too, in terms of sports anyway, on the planet. Having said that, I can’t watch the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) coming up in August pending DirecTV (the worst company on the planet) getting Universal Sports, another Comcast-NBC property. Never got to see much of Spain in person and so would like to see a travelogue, which would beat the hell out of traipsing through traffic to Staples arena or to the thankfully still more or less intact Art Deco LA Coliseum to see SC play some Pac 10 or Notre Dame patsy.

Then there’s the matter of us paying for new, and ever more trashy, stadiums and arenas for rich chumps (team owners and otherwise) and cheats (players and officials), anyone but true sports fans.

Screw ‘em, I’m enjoying July at the Tour and might watch, all the way through, one or two Denver Broncos (or Boise State Broncos) games if any show up on TV this fall. That’s about all, since really better things to do in life. Okay, maybe another Super Dud in February, so long as Tom Petty or the Stones and not Black-Eyed Peas or that kid, Justin somebody with the topless girl.

Whatever deals they make, a serious surtax on all their concussed heads. I’m not on owners or players side, only on the side of fans, even the car-burning ones. If only they could stick to burning just the cars of owners and players…

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By kerryrose, July 18, 2011 at 4:58 am Link to this comment

Baseball is beautiful.  The game is magic and fans and children are drawn into it’s magic allure.  It portrays of life of immediate success and failures, of highs and lows.  It portrays in-the-present existence that so many of us do not have.

As a boy, what is more magical than dreaming of a life testing your skills, ecstasy and agony in the space of a couple of hours?  It sure beats dreaming of a life in a cubicle or investigating insurance fraud.

Our dreams and love of baseball are the best of us, and the purest dreams for boys.  If Capitalism has cashed in, then it is not surprising.  I would bet, though, that the boys who play in sandlots all summer, and even the pros, would do it for a liveable wage.

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By surfnow, July 18, 2011 at 4:35 am Link to this comment

Like reality TV Stars, Hip-Hop moguls and Hollywood, pro athletes are overpaid, spoiled and basically useless. This while public school teachers are losing their jobs in droves. The NFL strike personifies our culture’s complete lack of real values.

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Billy Pilgrim's avatar

By Billy Pilgrim, July 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

I’ve been a sports junkie all my life but I don’t
give a shit about these “labor” issues between
millionaires and billionaires. How ironic is it that
professional athlete’s have successful unions while
the average working stiff does not? For me, sports
exist to keep me from going insane. The games I watch
on my big screen, HD television act as an electronic
anti-depressant, enabling me to, if just for a few
hours, escape from the harsh reality of trying to
survive in 21st century America. Watching sports is
much healthier for what remains of my mind than
listening to the Republicans in Congress and our out
of touch President throw bullshit at each other and
then having to endure some smart ass political
“pundit” regurgitate his opinion on what it all

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