Monday, July 18, 2011

Unions and Sports [Mondays with Gus in your Grill]

Often times in this country, when things go bad conservatives and corporations go after the unions. I could go on about how this means that the right wing is out of touch with mainstream society, but the fact of the matter is that they do this because unions don't vote conservatively. Democrats defend the unions just as strongly because unions do vote for them. That's just how the political game in the two-party system works. You divide society in half by telling everyone “If you ain't for me, you're against me.”

But when we look at sports, we have an avenue for eliminating a lot of the politics involved in decision making. Yes, athletes are political and they supported Barack Obama heavily in his presidential bid. However, you'll never see right wing conservatives go after the athletes themselves – and more importantly the players unions – because they're just too damn popular to mess with. Because of that, the NFL and the NBA give us probably the best way to discuss unions without making it a giant political issue based on party lines.

First, let's start with the bad with these unions. They hurt the customer when management and employees can't get along. The NBA will almost definitely be locked out for this entire season. Players have found an alternative income source, while scabs will not be brought in without a huge fuss from the union, players, and the media. By giving the players such great pay and benefits (I believe NBA players are overpaid, as are NBA owners), it also hurts the cost to the fans. The games are wildly expensive to go to.

Regardless of how they contribute to the bad, however, they also provide the NBA and NFL with opportunities to grow that just wouldn't exist without them. By paying the players huge salaries, the talent pool continues to grow around these leagues. The NFL is constantly expanding, while the NBA now has a developmental league. If the pay for these sports were anywhere close to the average American, athletes just wouldn't bother spending 8 or 9 years working on their game after school and during the summer for a chance to make average money. Face it, without the huge salaries, these two sports just wouldn't be as fun to watch because the talent wouldn't be the same.

So, while in a more political situation (like the Ohio or Wisconsin teachers union debates, that have hit a little too close to home for me personally) we would likely take a side and make demands of the people we don't agree with, I think the NBA and NFL give us a great chance to just see the debate for what it is: good in some ways, bad in others. I hope more people use this opportunity we've been given as fans, and in a broader sense as Americans, to sit back and watch closely a situation which most of us frankly don't understand. It's just another great way we can use sports as a platform for understanding how our society works. Or, at the very least, learn to blame and give credit to both sides instead of picking one.

-Gus Rafeedie

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