Professional Women’s Sports: Sexism and the WNBA

Authored by Kenneth Haskins

 

From the beginning of recorded history, sports have been seen as a male dominated arena. Only men were allowed to compete in the ancient Olympics, and it took until 1972 for women to be recognized by a national organization as deserving of equal opportunity in the athletic arena with the passing of Title IX. What is the cause of this? Quality of play? Systematic sexism in society? A maintenance of some sort of natural order? There are numerous theories and thoughts, but more importantly, why? Why is the quality of play looked at as less than? Why is there sexism in a progressive world in the most developed country? Why would there be any construct of strictly bound gender roles?

The Sport

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) are the three organizations at the forefront of professional athletics for female athletes. While many sports that women compete in (especially the Olympics) are also included in women’s professional sports, these three will be the focus, mainly the WNBA.

The WNBA was founded in 1996 as a counterpart to the NBA. At its infancy, all teams were owned, operated, and run out of NBA franchises and owners, and was the “little sister” of the NBA. Attendance has been declining for several years, and many are wondering what is at the root of this. From a quick observation, it seems that consumers aren’t interested in the style of basketball that women play. You hear that the games are boring, and no fun to watch. It is even commented on by prominent names in the sports industry. But what isn’t discussed is why. Why is basketball not seen as competitively equal between men and women? I believe it lies in the style of play. In men’s basketball, particularly the NBA, teams are bolstered by one super star athlete (think Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James) with a supporting cast that can feed the alpha. One player leaves a team, and that team can go from the NBA finals to the worst team in the league (RIP 2010 Cavs). Professional women’s basketball is different. It focuses on a strong team dynamic, with the ball quickly moving between players, finally sliding into a wide open three or a back door layup. These women are no less “skilled” of players; they just play a different game. And some argue it may be the same skill, but it’s slower. And my response is that no one faults NASCAR for being slower than Indy car racing, or women’s tennis not being as exciting because the serve is 10 mph less; everyone just accepts that it’s slightly different, and just as good. Where the why comes in for the WNBA is simple; they aren’t competing against the NBA, but instead the NCAA. NCAA men’s basketball is exactly what the WNBA is going for. Quick, team built basketball that reflects good coaching and values an assist. And to make matters worse, the WNBA then tries to market itself as an NBA team, focusing on single athletes and not the teams themselves. People rarely root for a specific college athlete, but instead the institution as a whole. If the WNBA wants to get off the ground, they need to realize where their value lies, and that is in the team aspect of what they bring to the table, and not superstar qualities. Whether or not the WNBA could steal away interest from college basketball is uncertain, but I know that they would have a better shot at being successful if they at least knew who their competition is.

Tennis and Golf are the counter-example to the WNBA. They have found a market where they have been successful. No tennis player alive right now is more famous than Serena Williams, and no golfer has taken up ESPN airtime than Michelle Wie (except maybe Tiger Woods). Both of these sports have maintained strong followings, and consistently garnered support and winnings. And while at times the pay gap seems large (because it is), the sports themselves are not criticized. Why is this? It’s because there is little benefit to being the strongest person on either the court or the course. Both of these sports require skill and finesse, not brawn and speed.

Society

But this brings up an interesting point: WHY DO WE THINK THAT BRAWN AND SPEED ARE NECESSARY FOR BASKETBALL. The sport isn’t built upon strength; the NBA is. And it is an indicator about the society we live in today that because a male dominated league has done something a certain way, that is the correct way. The sport is no less exciting, the action is no less, the threes of Elena Donne are just as spectacular as Stephen Curry, yet we continue to harass the WNBA. And maybe this is just an economics issue. The NBA and NCAA are already saturating the market, and there isn’t enough basketball to go around. Maybe if women want advancement in the professional sports arena they need to go to the sports that men haven’t already claimed. While there is a professional volleyball league, it doesn’t have nearly the backing that other women’s leagues have had in the past. And maybe the mediocrity of the MLS leaves the door open for professional women’s soccer to build to a point past that of men’s. But I think the real issue comes down to the fact that because women have been marginalized as long as sports have existed, we as a society think that this is the way that it is supposed to be, which is the farthest thing from the case. Women aren’t worse at sports than men, they are simply different, and in a lot of ways, quite a bit better. But until society can come to terms with the fact that what they already know isn’t what is actually true, there will continue to be a pay gap, continue to see women’s leagues fail, and continue to see women sports wholly be disregarded.

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Patriotism Can Be Exercised in More Ways Than One

This past Monday brought about Patriot’s Day, a celebration commemorating the battle of Lexington and Concord. While some states simply recognize the occasion, in Massachusetts it is well celebrated state holiday. Since 1969 the Boston Marathon has been ran, and the Red Sox have played at home to celebrate the events. As expected, the festivities and historic significance brings together patrons from around the world to travel to the city upon the hill, and celebrate patriotism in arguably the most historically patriotic city in the United States. In 2013 the Marathon and country were shaken in the wake of a bombing that killed three and injured hundreds more at the finish line. The nation rallied in support for the victims and the city of Boston and images of the slogan “Boston Strong” were seen everywhere. What became synonymous with the moment was David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s “This is our f**king city” comments and declaring that no one would dictate the freedom of Bostonians.  Sadly, Papi could not be more wrong.

These last couple weeks we have been reading What’s My Name, Fool? a book on resistance and sports, and at the center of it was a debate regarding whether or not players should be unconditionally patriotic. The debate while entertaining, featured the same questionable positions we see so many Americans have these days. Of course this is by no means a spite on the team defending the idea that they should be, after all they were given the topic and told to defend it, but it is the bigger picture that I am concerned with here. My position may anger some, but healthy dialogue never hurt anyone.

Shortly after 9/11 I went to a recruiting station and volunteered four years (initial contract) of my life to defend the United States against terrorism. This was the mindset for many of us who were at the ripe age to go abroad and fight the war, perhaps more so for those of us with a lack of opportunity after school, but my age group nonetheless. I completed two tours, twelve months and fifteen months respectively, in Iraq. After I was honorably discharged from the service I volunteered to go abroad again to help our young fighters in the battlefield. War was all I knew, and I knew it damn well. Patriotism was never a concern for me because I felt like I toed the line and stepped up when they needed me most. In hindsight I was blind. This is not to discredit my service, it was the best years of my life, but I was nothing more than a number. My voice was not something that would be heard when it came to the burdens of conflict. I had a job to do, and any sign of questioning of that was taken as insubordinate and subject to reprimand. In some respects I was no different than the athlete, I should be grateful and keep my mouth shut, and knowing what I know now that was a problem.

There are a number of examples, but in order to keep it brief I will just discuss a couple. In 2014 Dion Waiters refused to stand for the national anthem and he was immediately bombarded with negative media. His reasoning for not participating was because of his religion. The sentiment circulated showcased disdain for his ungratefulness to the nation that has allowed his career to flourish. Outlets said that his religion should not supersede his loyalty to the all-mighty United States. Waiters was not the first player to do this, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf decided not to stand during the 1996 season, and not only received a suspension from the league, but also lost endorsements and his promising career hit a brick wall. I guess religious liberty does not apply to those outside Christianity.
Athletes have been gifted with a platform most American’s could only dream of having. Sadly for many that platform has off-limits signs whenever it does not conform to the comforts of society. We saw examples of that with Muhammad Ali’s historic refusal to be sent to Vietnam, or Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ resistance in the 1968 Olympics, athletes have made history standing up against the injustices in America and they often receive backlash. In the case of Big Papi, people fell in love with his comments given the context in which they were said, and there is nothing wrong with that. It comforted people during a time when they needed it most. But the moment an athlete speaks or acts, out against war, police violence, or exercises their first Amendment in anyway (yes that includes freedom of religion) they are told it is not their place. To shut up and do their job.

To simply declare the United States as the land of the free only when those who speak out do so in accordance with what we agree with is hypocritical. This club is not exclusive, it requires the membership of those who wave flags and serve their country, but it also requires those who recognize the injustices and speak out against them as well. You are no less patriotic if you acknowledge a concern that affects those at home, and abroad. Regarding Papi’s comments, freedom has been dictated long before he came around, and it will be long after he is gone. Careers have ended as a result of the choices people make regarding their own beliefs. If you cannot speak out against injustices in fear of repercussions, then we are no different than the authoritarian regimes we so quickly criticize. At the center of freedoms definition rests the ability to speak and act without hindrance.  Perhaps that is where our allegiance should be, in ensuring that freedom is prolonged for generations to come.  The first step is acknowledging the fact we won’t always see eye-to-eye.

For Pride and Country: The Importance of Athletes to Compete in the Olympics

By Benjamin Narzissenfeld

As children, many of us have probably shared in the dream of getting the opportunity to represent our country at the Olympics. The chance to put on the Red, White, and Blue is something that would be life changing if I ever had the chance. I could only imagine the pride one must fell from putting on their country’s colors and going out there and competing for their nation. Just getting to go cements you within the sporting lore of your country, and your name becomes a rallying points for all those around the land you call home.

Sadly, it seems as if not everyone shares in this sentiment. Ever so increasingly these day, athletes are pulling their names out of contention for selection to the Olympics. Really? You don’t want to be in the Olympics? Oh… It doesn’t mean that much to you? It important that I note I’m not calling out those who are injured or have previously competed. Anthony Davis has stated multiple times how much he loves playing for Team USA, so if anything it disappointing for him that Injury will keep him out of the Olympics this summer. Chris Paul has already represented us at the last two Olympics, and his decision to step aside for Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving is amicable.

I am talking about athletes like Adam Scott, the Australian Golfer currently ranked 7th in the world. Along with World No. 1 Jason Day, He is one of two Australians ranked in the top seven, second only to the three Americans represented. This provided the Australians with a lot of reasonable hope that Australia would make a splash in the return of golf to the Olympic Games. However, hopes began to shatter with the news that Scott had decided to skip out on the Olympics.

Now, before we go and try to give any leeway, let’s look at the facts. Adam Scott isn’t struggle with form, quite to the contrary he has won two of the last five PGA (Professional Golfers Association) events, and has finished in the top ten of six tournaments this season. In fact, Adam Scott currently leads the FedEx Cup rankings. Maybe he is stepping aside for some younger stalwart? Actually, the next closest Australian is Marc Leishman at 34th in the world. Seeing as only the top fifteen players in the world automatically qualify to the Olympics, Adam Scott’s decision to be a no show effectively leaves Jason Day alone to carry the Australian flag in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

Many of you guys might be questioning why I would I care, and note that Australians should be the ones truly upset about his choice to forgo representing his country. That is absolutely correct, and by the way many current and former Australian Olympians are reacting, it is also very much so true. As reported in the Brisbane Times, former Olympian and Australian swimming sensation Dawn Fraser was one of the first amongst the country’s sporting greats to hit out at Adam Scott, with the scathing criticism such as “Well done Adam, great to put your country on hold so that you can fulfil your own schedule, How much money do you want in life? (You’re) not showing much for your country.”

To address the question of why I care so much, it is simply because that exact thing is not only happening over there, but is happening here, in Europe, and around the whole world.

The top men’s tennis player in the United States, World No. 16 John Isner, coincidently within hours of Adam Scott also pulled out of contention for the Olympics. His excuse? He wants to play in the BB&T Atlanta Open, a non-major tournament he has already on three separate occasions.

The United States women’s soccer team players are threatening to boycott the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro at what would be an attempt at their fourth straight gold medal because of supposed “Gender Equality.” Probably off of the incredible misguided assertion that they could possibly beat their male counterpart, apparent monetary greed is causing the team to turn down participation in arguing a political case that evidently doesn’t hold water.

While I believe the United States women’s soccer team will ultimately be competing in the Olympics, it’s hard not to see the actions of both the team and John Isner as damaging to their representation but also to the sporting morale and reputation of our country. Plenty of American athletes see their dreams of competing at the highest level dashed time and time again. It’s not uncommon to see those who fail to qualify overcome with tears and sorrow, only hoping that they will have another shot to stake an opportunity at achieving their dreams. So in their eyes, just imagine what it must be like seeing another athlete decide that there just not feeling it.

On a world scale, think about how alarming a trend this could become for the Olympics. There’s a certain prestige to being the world’s top international multi-sport event. There’s an expectation that we see the best athletes in world going head to head at the games. With top athletes skipping the events, how long will it be before the games lose that expectation? When will it go from the best ballers putting on their country’s colors to Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili playing in glorified pick-up game?

So much of what it means to play in the Olympic Games is based on the merits of Olympic Athletes and the honor of representing your country. Not everyone gets the chance to, and that’s what makes it so extraordinary. Pulling out of the games flies in the face of these values. At the end of the day, It shouldn’t be looked at as whether you’d like to play in the Olympics, but rather a challenge that should always be accepted.

Equality for Who?

477355828In today’s day and age, we have seen so many various strides, efforts changes towards becoming more tolerant and accepting of others in terms of sexuality, racial identification, gender, religion and many other fields. Keeping this fact in mind, it is hard to believe that in the 21st century within the realm of the work place it is still common practice for both women and people of the LGBT community to be discriminated against and find themselves either making lower wages or even worse completely barred from jobs. These two facts do not only pertain to your average American citizen however, it has also infected the realm of sports as well. You see the NFL and other sports leagues coming out screaming and claiming their support of equality for all athletes however within the actual leagues themselves we see that discrimination still rears its ugly head and moreover is still prevalent despite the public stance claiming equality.

Suzy-Homemaker-667x549From the early beginnings of society and civilization, it was always thought that a woman’s domain should be the household, and her influence should deal with keeping up the home and raising the children while the man does what is considered the “real work” of finding a job and providing for the family. This idea, also known as the cult of domesticity or cult of true womanhood, was a system of values that prevailed in the United States in the past but still seems to be one that tries to govern how a woman is viewed within society. Today, we have seen many women who have challenged the ideas of domesticity and have shown that they are able to not only keep a home but also provide for themselves acquiring professions in the form of doctors, lawyers, etc. However what about the female athlete? The prevailing idea is that sports is a system that is founded on the idea of meritocracy, a philosophy holding that power should be vested in individuals almost exclusively based on ability and talent. We have seen many excellent female athletes, some of whom even outshine males within the same sport but despite this fact they are still not treated equally to their male counterparts.

476448982To visualize this fact, lets take a look at one of the biggest forms of discrimination, (gender discrimination—lower wages) and some of the figures that make this evident. The average player, in the United States TOP, (note the emphasis on top) women’s league, the National Woman’s Soccer League (NWSL), is paid between $6000 and $30,000 compared to the top men’s league, Major League Soccer (MLS) who pays their athletes a MINIMUM of $50,000. There are clear implications of discrimination here, a woman playing the same sport of soccer can be one of the best in the league however her maximum income is still less than the minimum income of her male counterparts. This is clearly a spit in the face of equality, considering the fact that it was the U.S Women’s National team who actually won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup while simultaneously becoming the first three time FIFA Women’s World Cup winners. 475503388This is not the case for soccer alone however; in sports across the board the highest paid athletes are almost always male. In 2015, only two women made Forbes’ list of “100 highest paid athletes,” Maria Sharapova ($29.7 million) and Serena Williams ($24.6 million) both of whom dominate the sport of tennis and could give any male tennis player a run for their money, in my opinion. But despite this, both made less than half of what the highest paid male tennis player, Roger Federer, made in 2015 ($67 million). How can sports claim their support of equality when there is so much discrimination within their leagues?

The lack of equality however does not only affect women as there are gay athletes who also receive discrimination is subtle forms. Despite the progress we have seen in people becoming more tolerant of the LGBT community the realm of sports is still however one of the most homophobic areas. We have seen the NFL commissioner come out in support of embracing an athlete that identifies with the LGBT community however; many football players still remain in the closet about their sexual orientation. But if sports are so pro-gay and pro-LGBT why exactly is this this case? If the officials of these leagues are publicly giving off the idea of acceptance of the LGBT community then why would these athletes feel like they would still have to hide a big part of who they are? The answer here, in my opinion, is to protect their livelihood are careers.

collinssamLets look at Jason Collins’ experience, for example. While I am not an individual that followed his career closely, I am aware of the longevity that he once had in the NBA due to his talent, skill and ability. He was an athlete that played on several NBA teams, was noted for his ability as a defensive player and one that his teammates could definitely rely on. Despite all of his success as an athlete, ever since he came out of the closet and revealed his sexuality, it seems that all of his talent and skill has been forgotten and now he is just that “gay athlete”. He has not had any real time out on the court since his coming out, and this is where the discrimination comes in. Did he all of a sudden lose any of his talent due to the fact that he revealed gay? The same can be said about Michael Sam, another athlete who revealed that he was indeed gay. Since he publicly announced his sexuality, he was picked up by a team, but then cut, picked up again by another team just to be cut again. Since being cut a second time, he has not had any real opportunities to get back onto the field. Now I’m not saying that he was cut explicitly because he was gay but there has been cases of average-ability athletes being given several opportunities to make a career for themselves that in my opinion has not been done for either Collins or Sam.

After everything that has been discussed, can it be unequivocally said, without a doubt, that there is equality within sports? Given the discrimination seen in terms of the gender pay-gap as well as blacklisting gay athletes I highly doubt it.

Paid patriotism in U.S. sports

By Ariana Figueroa

It’s not uncommon to have military tributes at sporting event, whether it’s at the professional or armature level. Aside from sports having the unique ability to bring community members together regardless of race, sex, religion and social class, most U.S. citizens stand by their soldiers and veterans when they are honored during sporting events. Seeing men and women military officials at games creates a sense of pride and can unite an entire nation, which is why the Pentagon has spent $6.8 million to pay for patriotic displays during sports games, according to national public radio.

A report released by Senator John Flake and Senator John McCain stated that since 2012 the Pentagon has signed 72 contracts with teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer. The NFL had 18 teams, MLB had 10 teams, the NBA had eight teams, NASCAR, eight soccer teams, Iron Dog and Indiana University had contracts with the Department of Defense to put on paid displays of patriotism.

This paid patriotism is not only manipulative to sports fans but is also funded by taxpayers who are unaware they are paying for these advertisements. According to NPR, it cost $49,000 to allow the Wisconsin Army Guard to sponsor the “God Bless America” song during the Milwaukee Brewers game and taxpayers funded that performance.

Another example is the New York Jets had a contract that paid the team $20,000 to “recognize one of two New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers as hometown heroes,” according to the report. These ‘hometown heroes inspire a sense of pride for fans at these events, but these heroes are really just marketing ploys.

The league that got the most paid contracts was the NFL with $6 million, with The Atlanta Falcons earning $879,000; the New England Patriots with $700,000; and the Buffalo Bills with $650,000, according to USA Today. The Patriots were the second-largest recipients among the professional sports teams.

In the contract with the Falcons, about 80-guard member carried an American flag across the field, according to the article. The Falcons owner Arthur Blank defended his teams contract. In a statement he wrote: “Our marketing and sponsorship agreement with the National Guard is designed to fulfill their objectives of increasing awareness and aiding in recruiting efforts, which has become more important in an all-volunteer service environment. This is no different than any other sponsorship agreement in that it is structured to fit a business need.”

That statement used sports as a platform to promote the National Guard, something fans were not aware of and paid for. Sports is about bringing people from all backgrounds together and by using the military to create a sense of nationalism and patriotism is deceitful to sport fans. It preys on the sense of unity that sports is able to bring to its fans and athletes.

The senators found that the paid patriotism included a variety of activities such as on-field color guards; enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies; performances of the national anthem; full-field flag details; ceremonial first pitches and puck drops; and hometown hero and wounded warrior tributes. The senators said these patriotic tributes are popular with sports fans, but these fans have no idea that these events are funded by the Pentagon under contract with the teams because they think they were watching voluntary salutes to the military, not a contract for patriotic pride by a team or stadium management.

These contracts for paid patriotism aren’t fair to fans or veterans for that matter because those soldiers who were ‘recognized’ were used as a marketing ploy and not for their service to their country. It’s disrespectful to veterans and soldiers because their service is being used to manipulate fans into being patriotic under false pretenses.

The Pentagon justified the contracts because it said they were part of a campaign to promote the armed services and boost recruitment through patriotic events, game tickets, player appearances and other acts. Matthew Allen, the Department of Defense spokesman said in a statement the campaigns “help to educate the public, build brand recognition, renew interest in public service and overcome negative perceptions of military that may exist among influencers and eligible youth.”

Sen. McCain disagreed with the contracts because they exploit taxpayers and misrepresent men and women serving the military. “Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honoring troops at professional sporting events are not actually being conducted out of a sense of patriotism, but for profit in the form of millions in taxpayer dollars going from the Department of Defense to wealthy pro sports franchises,” he said in a statement. “Fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service, not as a marketing ploy.”

Soon after a the report the Department of Defense banned paid patriotism in sports and the NFL has urged all members to refuse payment for paid patriotism but the Department of Defense can’t account for the extent of paid patriotism activities. According to the report, more than a third of paid patriotism contracts were not included in the Department of Defense.

These findings showed the government interfering in the culture of sports. With sports naturally having the ability to bring people together, the Department of Defense used that to set their own platform.

There’s nothing wrong with honoring those who serve out country at sporting events because they do deserve to be recognized for their sacrifice and service. What’s wrong is using their service as a marketing tool to increase military support from sports fans. These fans will feel a sense of pride and nationalism when they see these military officials and veterans honored and recognized at sporting events. These soldiers should be recognized for their service, not used as an opportunity or platform. Sports should be a way for a community to gather together because of a game, not for monetary benefits and government should not interfere in the culture sports provides.

 

Obesity and Sports: The Unhealthy Contradiction

Ahhhh.

Baseball is back, and with it comes all of the baseball essentials that generations of families have grown up with.

The smell of fresh-cut grass.

The sound of the ball hitting the mitt.

The sight of chili dripping from the deep fried hotdog onto the protruding stomach of the overweight fan.

While gross, the last staple of baseball, and of most all sporting events, is very real and very unhealthy. More than 20 million hotdogs, made out of god knows what, were projected to have been bought by fans in Major League Baseball stadiums in 2013 alone. That is just baseball, now imagine that number when combined with basketball and football and hockey, tennis, NASCAR, and more. More than that, unhealthy foods and monstrous creations have become the norm in sports arenas and stadiums across the nation, each one seemingly attempting to one-up the one before in amount of food fried, strangest combinations, and arteries blocked. Obesity is a problem blubbering out of control in America, and we can see that that is the case in even the most unlikely places: sporting events.

One would think that sporting events would be immune to the unhealthy food craze that has seemingly captured American’s taste buds. Think about it: people are paying money to watch some of the most athletically and physically superior human beings in the world use their abilities to perform extraordinary feats. There is no reason why watching the perfect-body, sculpted, physical marvel Lebron James dunk a basketball should make someone want to grab a chili dog. It does not make sense that when fans watch a batter like Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball so hard that it flies out of a stadium that it should make them crave a Coke. Yet despite this, despite this apparent contradiction where fans become their unhealthiest while enjoying watching the skills of the healthiest, that is exactly what we see happening. The sad part? Stadiums and teams know this and they feed on the feeding craze, and choose to profit from it rather than try to prevent it.

Take, for example, the professional baseball team the Atlanta Braves. The Braves made headlines during spring training when they unveiled the newest member of their organization: the Burgerizza. That’s right, the Braves, who, granted, projects to be one of the worst teams in all of Major League Baseball, made headlines and onto SportsCenter, for their newest monstrous creation – not their team’s play. The Burgerizza is a cheeseburger, topped with bacon and five slices of cheese, but in case that is not enough, instead of buns it has pizza slices. To put in perspective how unhealthy this thing is, the company that is making it did not even choose to find out the calorie count! The Burgerizza is just one in a long line of unhealthy food creations created by professional sports venues to try and drive sales. From the Donut Burger to the Funneldog (a corndog with funnelcake surrounding the hot dog and topped with powdered sugar) the amount of unhealthy foods offered is, well, unhealthy.

The sad part here is that the teams are not offering these foods for fun, they are doing it to make money. The only thing worse than the unhealthy beasts offered by the stadiums is the fact that fans are actually buying them! It is not only the high-priced crazy options that are the problems, it is the fact that the healthy foods at stadiums are scarce and expensive.

Let’s take, for example, the menu of the Miami Marlins Baseball Stadium – Marlin’s Park. The normal, yet still unhealthy, hotdogs and burgers are between $6 and $8. Yet if you want something healthier, say fish tacos? $12. About the price of a ticket. Furthermore, just finding the food is difficult – the next time you are at a sporting event, walk around the venue and count how many locations you see that are advertising something healthy, something other than hotdogs, chicken tenders, pizza, or burgers. It is startling. This amount of advertisement and ubiquitous locations for purchasing diabetes-inducing delicacies should not be a surprise, not when advertisement dollars are factored in. We know that unhealthy food items make up a large portion of the advertising pie – anyone who has watched the super bowl and seen commercial after commercial for Doritos, Coke, Pepsi, and different kinds of beer can tell you that. But when the numbers are crunched and the true amount of dollars coming from unhealthy products is calculated, the results are frightening. Three of the top four biggest spenders on super bowl advertisements over the last decade are food and beverage companies – all unhealthy. In fact, in Sports Illustrated’s list of 50 most powerful people in sports there are two different executive from Coke.

Now why is this important? Why does it matter that healthy foods at a stadium are as elusive as World Series rings for the Chicago Cubs? Well obesity affects more than 1/3 of American adults, and can lead to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and more. It truly is a health epidemic in our society, and yet we as a society are content on letting it happen. When the venues that house the healthiest and most physically fit and gifted members of society can get away with selling little to no healthy foods for high prices it says that our country has a problem. When children are allowed to watch commercial after commercial of unhealthy foods and drinks, which has been proven to increase consumption, or attend the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race or watch a Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center, we have a problem. Sports has been known to reflect our society, but in this case it both reflects it and fattens it. Despite this, there is little outcry and even less consumption of healthy foods. America is getting fat and happy, literally.

Obesity is a gigantic problem, one that extends beyond sports, but one in which sports does nothing to combat. If Americans choose to eat poorly, fine. But they should not be pushed in that direction by the institution that should stand for healthy choices and exercise.

Instead of a Burgerizza, we should hear about the new turkey sandwich or salad. Instead of the all-you-can-drink-soda deal, we should be able to buy bottles of water for less than $4 a pop. Americans need to trim down, and maybe trimming down the unhealthy food options at sporting events can make a difference.

Argentinian Football (Soccer): A State of Corruption

It’s an energetic Sunday night in Buenos Aires as the highly anticipated match between the two most beloved Argentinian football clubs is underway. It’s a friendly match between Boca Juniors and River Plate and there is nothing friendly about it. These clubs make up one of the fiercest rivalries in not just football but arguably all of sports. Its name is the Superclásico and it has been a tradition for decades. During the early portion of the match this hatred had begun to materialize with vicious tackles performed on two River players. Both of the Boca culprits were sent off by the referee as a result. This was only the beginning however. Shortly after this the tipping point was met when a River player head-butted Boca’s star Carlos Tevez. Chaos ensued as a brawl broke out and by the end three more players were sent off while police swarmed the field. The match ended in a win for River Plate but this certainly was not the headline of the night. The fixture was viewed as a disgrace by both sides and it showed the dirty side of the beautiful game. However, the violence and poor behavior displayed on the field pales in comparison to the actions displayed off of it. Organized crime and corruption have negatively impacted the sport and continues to do so through money laundering, racketeering, and violence.

Argentina is currently known as a country that contains some of the most passionate football fans in the world. Football is not just a sport to them but a religion. These fans come from all walks of life and have supported their clubs for many years. Some have even taken their dedication to the next level. For every major Argentinian club there has been the creation of organized fan groups. These are made up of the rowdiest supporters who consistently make their presence known through passionate chants, banners, and slogans. These groups however are not just all made up of innocent fans. The term for these groups is barra bravas (tough-gangs) and they are mostly responsible for the corruption and violence that surrounds Argentinian football. These gangs have been around as early as the 1950’s and have grown into a dominant force. Barras, as they are known, are organized in a way that resembles the mafia only with club supporters. The barras are headed by a leader who surrounds himself with a small group that controls up to 6,000 foot soldiers who perform various tasks. These tasks include using violence on rival gangs, controlling merchandising outfits, operating food stalls around the stadium, charging for parking, and even the distribution of weapons and drugs. In return, the foot soldiers receive free tickets, beer, and drugs while the money flows to the top. The passion of Argentinian football fans has transformed into a business operation that transcends fandom.

Additionally, the corruption of the barras not only involves just fans but the clubs themselves. Various club directors and staff owe their positions to these groups and if they go against the desires of the barras they can receive threats of physical harm. According to Argentinian journalist Gustavo Grabia, the barras “also receive up to 30% of transfer fees when a player leaves and up to 20% of some players’ paychecks.” This is quite startling and provides a glimpse of how much power these groups possess. The police and politicians tend to turn a blind eye to these affairs since they are also under their influence. By showing their support and collecting votes for politicians they receive impunity in return. A member of one of the barras (wasn’t revealed due to safety reasons) explains how “Police get paid, politicians get paid, and everyone wins. When they need muscle they have it, when we want money or access to players then we get it. If the clubs don’t think a player is doing his job properly or not paying out we’ll have a word or his girlfriend or wife might be threatened with kidnap.” The level of control that the barras have is now equivalent or even above the clubs themselves.

Furthermore, the barras serve as a reflection of the hardship and struggle that have been ongoing in various sections of Argentina. Many foot soldiers come from Argentina’s slums and the barras give them a chance to escape this reality. One member who lives in Villa Fiorito, one of Argentina’s most dangerous slums, describes his experience by stating how “It was like a dream, to go to the match every week, to be someone. At the games we’re welcomed like heroes. You don’t need to go through security, you don’t need to answer any questions. In there we’re like the kings of the stadium!” It is clear that the barras have provided these fans something that they were previously devoid of. This is the reward of status. Since these men are not able to obtain it in their slums they have chosen to gain it through the world of football.

In conclusion, the state of corruption in Argentinian football seems to be never-ending as the barras continue to thrive. The money laundering, racketeering, and violence that are common with the barras have plagued the sport in the country. The fact that the players, club directors, politicians, and law enforcement are all involved in these activities has put a stain on the beautiful game. Though it might provide those in the slums a chance to escape their troubles, it should not come at the price of integrity. Hopefully the foot soldiers will soon start to realize this, but odds are as long as the conditions around them remain poor the barras will live on. Moreover, the Superclásico approaches this Sunday at the famous Bombonera, home of Boca Juniors, and excitement has already been building. When the players step onto the pitch they will be cheered on by thousands of passionate fans including La Doce. This group of Boca supporters are revered for their intense display of affection and have been known as some of the most loyal fans in the sport. Simultaneously, they are also known as “one of the most feared and infamous groups of barra brava in the country.” This duality is a representation of what Argentinian football has become.

The Olympics or the World’s Greatest Hidden Catastrophe?

When thinking of the Olympics, most people think of the idea of coming together. The majority of the world views the Olympics as one of the greatest showings of sportsmanship, humanitarianism and global interactivity on the planet. What other sporting event brings every single country in the world together over one common, simple idea? The idea that sports can unite the globe and overcome any global conflict. In essence, the Olympics is even greater than the World Cup in the fact that it truly can incorporate every single in the country over a plethora of different sports. Now, all that would be fine and dandy if the Olympics didn’t’ also lead to some of the greatest humanitarian atrocities in modern history.

In 1988, South Korea hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics. An Olympics that featured many highlights including Ben Johnson’s 100M dash and the Soviet gymnastics team’s near perfect performance. Unfortunately, what goes understated is the mini-genocide that South Korea committed to host those Olympics. The South Korean government, in an effort to “purify” their streets, rounded up the homeless, poor and disabled and sent them to modern day concentration camps to make their city look better. These citizens of South Korea were sent to the Brothers Home, a slave labor camp where they were routinely beaten, tortured, raped and murdered due to their sheer mental, economic or cosmetic appearance. Officially, between 1975 and 1986, 513 people were killed at the Brothers Compound, but the true number is estimated to be in the thousands, and possibly tens of thousands. In order to receive the Olympic bid and beat out other countries, South Korea felt the need to manually gentrify their streets. In turn, they traded human rights for profit, and that just feels wrong in the spirit of the Olympic games.

Now, if those events only occurred once, a little under 30 years ago, it wouldn’t be excused, but seen as an isolated event. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. We can look back to multiple examples of the past and modern day to see the injustices that the money involved in the Olympic games have brought. In 1936, when Nazi Germany hosted the Olympic games, the Olympics were held not as much to bring the world together over sports, but for Hitler to be able to show that his white, Aryan athletes were the best in the world, and that no one else could compete. Hitler excluded non-Aryans, Jews, Gypsies and many more from his German teams. Luckily, athletes like Jesse Owens, an African-American track star, proved just how wrong Hitler was.

While we’ve discussed the Olympics in great depth, it’s not just the Olympics that breeds this kind of behavior. In a sense, it’s multinational sporting events. We can look at the preparation for the 2022 Qatar World Cup and see what kinds of human atrocities are taking place. If you include the 2008 Summer Olympics, 2010 World Cup, 2010 Winter Olympics, 2012 Summer Olympics, 2014 World Cup and 2014 Winter Olympics, there was a total of only 80 worker deaths. While any death toll is devastating, those numbers aren’t that high for dangerous, high-level construction jobs. For the 2022 World Cup alone, 1,200 workers, mostly migrants have already died from on the job related incidents. Not only are migrant workers being paid slave labor wages, working restless hours, but their passports are being held by Qatar officials so they cannot even leave the country. Qatar is employing modern day slavery, and that’s unacceptable for an event that apparently brings countries together over a sport.

The motto for the Olympic games is Citius, Altius, Fortius. That phrase is Latin and translates in English to “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” To become faster, higher and stronger we must foster an environment where every global citizen is treated equally no matter how they look, what their intelligence level is or what they believe in. We as a planet cannot achieve the Olympic motto if we don’t work together to become a better society. In a time like 1896, when the modern Olympics were first hosted, it gave countries an opportunity, many for the first time, to interact with each other in an environment outside of business or government. It allowed the citizens of each country to work with citizens of other countries to make the world faster, higher and stronger. In an environment where we inherently discriminate to make our appearance better we don’t become faster, higher or stronger. What we become is close-minded, weaker and open to less and less ideas that help us progress from decade to decade.

At the end of the day, there will be corruption in any major organization. That’s the way big business works and will work until the end of time. But at a certain point, we have to evaluate whether these multi-national events are good for the globe, or if they foster an environment inhumane and unjust to many global citizens. For now, the answer is hard to determine, but steps in the right direction must be taken. Whether it’s a boycott or a worker’s strike, it doesn’t matter. Something must be done to protect the rights of humans, as no single person’s life is greater than another.

College Athletes Should Not be Able to go to the Professional League after High School

 Maxwell Koller

            A common consensus among all high school athletes and that of college students is the extreme levels of difficulty required to pursue a professional career in their particular sport and the levels of commitment and largely maturity that is required to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle as a professional athlete. These men and women require large levels of discipline and self-belief that can only be taught through the trials and tribulations of life and growing up. High school athletes regardless of their personal skill level are not emotionally, and overall mentally ready to pursue a professional path among grown men that play to make their living, provide for their families, and have pursued the game for years and years already. It is a competitive and professional disadvantage for these young athletes to be exploited and coaxed into entering the professional league by hired individuals who are trained to do what their organization thinks is best. In this case it is retaining and obtaining the young, promising athletes is their primary objective and will persuade and coax these families into thinking that they have the best interests of these athletes at heart however misconstrued their intentions might be. The professional world of sports does not look at their athletes as people more so as numbers and those numbers as dollar signs. These young high school students, who do not always have the most formal education, nor an appropriate view of the real world, laws, finances, regulatory policies etc. are not ready to face such a responsibility with such little framework for success. These athletes need to go sharpen and hone their skills at a collegiate level at least for a couple years, further their understanding of the sport, and increase the where with all of their knowledge in developing their career as their first and foremost purpose. Professional athletes are surrounded by many people that want to dictate the terms and events of sports and influence athletes to do what they desire rather than what is in the best interest of the athlete. High school athletes that are stepping into the professional world are not adequately prepared when dealing with such people pretending to act within their best interests. They look at what the people are telling them as positive opportunity, albeit sometimes it is, when in fact these people are trying to make monetary gains, or competitive gains from these individuals. We cannot expose children to these types of tactics as they are not ready to face the ordeal nor fully comprehend the nature of the consequences and the effects they will have on their future career and overall life. High school athletes should not be allowed to make steps immediately into professional leagues and it is completely negligent of these organizations to exploit young people for their own professional gain.

It goes without saying the child prodigies do exist, and the nature of sports has harbored and fueled large levels of competitiveness at a junior level. In order to make it as a professional athlete you need to compete and prepare for your career at a very young age, or you will be left behind by those who fully dedicate their lives to the task. That being said one can train their whole life for an approach in professional sports and not have the maturity nor life experience to take on a career at such a young age. In itself making it to the professional leagues is an accomplishment however that is just the beginning. Athletes need to maintain their health, fitness, level of play, and self-discipline in order to only maybe succeed in the leagues. These young athletes are potentially capable of achieving such goals however the risk is far higher in failure for these high school athletes that are not ready to take on the rigors of a professional athletic life, the pressures of competing for not only pride and opportunity, but money as well. Money fuels sports and overall personal career success in life. If these young athletes put all of their eggs in one basket after high school and do not make it on the professional circuit then they are left in a limbo once they are opted out of their sport. They are left with a high level of playing in a field of sport that is not necessarily practical or reasonable in the everyday work force. The opportunity for these successful high school athletes to use their skills to go obtain a degree from a university, and often times due to their level the university of their choice, is something that needs to be capitalized on and marketed more by our society to promote the welfare and provide support for these athletes prior to taking on the pros. It allows them a fall back plan if sidelined due to serious injury, illness, lack of success in relation to results and so on and so forth. With these young, bright individuals they have the incredible opportunity to take their skills and build on them in professional collegiate settings, and further their growth in the real world as they are surrounded by thousands of their peers that shine a light in fields not just related to sports. It fosters growth and development for these young minds as they can continue to excel and pursue their professional career in sport and at the same time further their development of life skills and the practicality of obtaining a degree. Opportunity in professional sports often comes once in a lifetime and these players need to be ready emotionally and physically to seize the opportunity given and take their talents as far as they can. Without the proper timing much of the livelihood of these young athletes can be ruined and proper cultivation and care needs to be considered when approaching this case.

The Impact Kobe Bryant had on the LA Lakers

Kobe Bryant just played in his final NBA game of his illustrious 20 year career, all 20 of those years being with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five championships for the Lakers during this time and was a two time finals MVP as well as making 18 all-star games during his career. During his final game he scored 60 points, an NBA season high and won the game for the Lakers. Of course the game meant nothing in terms of standings and playoffs, but it was still a special game with a special performance. I think it is safe to say that Kobe Bryant is a franchise player. A franchise player is a player who is so deeply rooted in his team, who has impacted his team in a positive way and who is considered one of the best players in their respective teams’ history as well as the respective league. There is a small group of franchise players across all four major sports who have played with just one team and has brought that team success. A player of this magnitude does not come around often and I don’t think anyone knows when the next player like this will come around. Right now there are still a few players who can be considered franchise players in basketball. That being Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, and maybe Dirk Nowitzki but Dirk only has one championship. Michael Jordan was a franchise player for the Bulls, but he retired as a Washington Wizard. These types of players are a rare breed, especially in today’s salary cap era where teams are constantly making roster cuts each off season. Some more examples of franchise players of this caliber are Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, Mario Lemieux, Martin Brodeur, and a few other Yankees from the 1930s-1950s. A franchise player is someone who, at the end of his career is considered to be one of the franchise greats, and that is undoubtedly true for Kobe Bryant.

All that being said, Jason Whitlock, a sports reporter for FOX sports 1 ripped Kobe Bryant and his career accomplishments calling him selfish and narcissistic. The video can be viewed here: https://www.yahoo.com/tv/fox-sports-jason-whitlock-rips-kobe-bryant-most-143211679.html. He claims that Kobe Bryant ruined the franchise and he is the reason why the Lakers are in such bad shape right now. While this can’t go ignored, it is not what is important. It is about celebrating Bryant and his accomplishments and honoring everything he did for the Lakers as well as the game of basketball. That final game was not about if the Lakers would win or not. It was about seeing a living legend suit up one last team and giving it his all for everyone to watch and celebrate. As for the state of the Lakers, now that Bryant is retired, and is not part of the team, now the Lakers can turn the page and focus on a new era and getting back to their success. Say what you will about Kobe as a teammate, but that is not what the storyline should have been for the final NBA game of his career.

This game definitely had an impact on society because just about everyone knew about it and just about everyone knows who Kobe Bryant is. Whether you love him or hate him, you were aware of what was going on with Kobe Bryant. What was even more special about the game was the fact that Kobe dropped 60 points, a season high for any player. Not even Steph Curry reached that mark. This is similar to what Derek Jeter did in his final game at Yankee stadium, where he hit a walk-off single. While Jeter has not seen the same criticism as Kobe for being selfish, both players were huge contributors to their respective teams.

When a franchise player comes around every generation or so such as Derek Jeter or Kobe Bryant and they produce championships at any point in their career, they should be celebrated and honored when they finally call it a career. Even if the team as a whole has some down years, like the Lakers and Yankees did, that does not mean one should downplay what these players accomplished.

Say what you will as Kobe Bryant as a person, but as a player he contributed greatly to the Los Angeles Lakers. I myself am not the biggest Laker or Kobe fan, but all I could do is sit back and watch, appreciate, and cheer when Kobe dropped 60 points to win his final career game. Now the next few years are crucial for the Lakers as a franchise to see how they will turn the page of the Bryant era and if Jason Whitlock’s claims were true or not of him being selfish and a detriment to the franchise. But one thing is certain among all basketball fans, number 24 will be missed.