This essay is about sports both professional and amateur.
Overall, sports are mostly good for you. That’s because they involve exercise which is essential for good health. Sports also reward effort, preparation, and courage. People who do such things as prepare, try hard, and overcome their fears get better at it. If you have never prepared you don’t even think of getting ready. If you never try hard, you quit trying easily. If you have never faced fear, your response to fear will tend to be panic. These broad generalizations are true but a too-ready acceptance of them can lead one to the false conclusion that sport is always beneficial no matter how it is conducted and no matter the circumstances. Sport can easily be a mixed bag.
Let’s begin with sport for children. At the youngest ages, say preschool or early elementary grades, sport is just playing and winning or losing doesn’t really figure into it. Watch six-year-old boys and girls playing baseball. A butterfly or a bug on the ground can easily distract the player away from the batted ball. The intrinsic pleasure of catching, throwing, or hitting the ball with a bat is what it’s all about. Of course, there’s also the fear of getting hit by the ball, so not all of the play is fun. But it isn’t really the game that matters to these very young players, it’s the things one does as a part of the game. The players are not bothered by a loss unless the parents or coaches make a big deal of it. Five minutes after a win or a loss the outcome of the game is forgotten if the parents allow it to be forgotten.
This is sport for the fun of playing not for the satisfactions and joys of competition. Competition comes later. By the age of nine or ten, the players have become very aware of winning and losing. Being called a “loser” is to suffer an insult. Winning feels good, but losing may hurt worse. This 8-10 age range is the age students are when I begin coaching them. I also have coached through middle school age. I have coached teams in these age ranges for over 30 years with considerable success in terms of player satisfaction, happiness, and joy in playing. I take considerable pride in having my players of all skill levels wanting to return to my team whether we have had many wins the year before or not, but enough bragging. The point is that I do know what I am talking about in this subject area from considerable personal experience.
Competition can enhance the pleasure of the game depending on the context. I emphasize to my players that only they can win the game. Coaches cannot score nor play defense. Only players can do the things necessary for victory. On the other hand, the coaches (particularly the head coach) have all of the authority. Coaches choose (or recruit) the players. Coaches provide instruction and run the practices. Coaches set the lineups, specify who is to play which positions, and make substitutions. In other words, the coaches are responsible for all losses. When the game is over, one team’s players have won and the other team’s head coach has lost. When the players understand this and when the coach lives the truth of that fact the games and competition become much more fun for the players. When the coach gets angry at failures or punishes lack of success, the game changes. The game becomes something beyond just play. It is no longer fun even when the team wins. Winning is a relief, not a joy. Winning is to avoid suffering rather than a simple pleasure. One’s self-image is at stake. In truth, in every team sport and most individual sports one can have considerable success even when the game is lost. If you have ever attended a children’s game and seen a weak player get a hit or score a goal and heard the extra burst of applause you can understand that the player has just had success which will be remembered long after the outcome of the game is forgotten.
What does the above have to do with money? Funny you should ask. It seems that our economy is a competition of all against all. If one loses one of these quote “games” unquote one is punished. Winning is just a relief, not a simple pleasure. One’s self-image is at stake. In other words, with our POM economy, the worst aspects of sports are reproduced. Remember that one of the consequences of using a physical object for money, a POM is that the POM falsely simulates a zero-sum game in that in order to gain POM some other party or parties must lose POM. This makes POM transactions competitive, rivalries, antagonistic, and sometimes even deadly. Look at how we think about people who are poor. We are conditioned to consider them inferior, unworthy, undeserving, immoral, untrustworthy, and just downright bad. They are losers in the broadest sense of the term. But we should not think of them in that way. Poor people have considerable successes in their lives. Just imagine trying to survive – and even raising children – while getting by with almost no money. Think about how hard it is to get enough food, medical care, and a place for shelter from the weather without money. Where do you go and how do you get there to get food if you have no money, especially if you have a couple of small preschool children? How do you feed your children today if they get free meals at school, but today’s a Saturday? Just staying alive under those circumstances is a considerable success. Yet we still think of the poor as being inferior. We must be blind, otherwise, why would we repeatedly shoot ourselves in the foot?
Sports at the young ages can build confidence or a sense of inferiority. It can teach one to cooperate to reach a higher goal or it can teach one to be selfish and inconsiderate of others. It can teach one to see sport as a pleasure shared with those on the other team, or it can teach one that rules exist to be broken and cheating is the easiest way to be a winner. In other words sports, whether team sports or individual sports, is a mixed bag. When children play organized sports, their approach to the game and what they take from playing is shaped largely by their coaches, the adults that organize youth sports. The adults have their worldview shaped largely by their own experiences in life. That takes us back to the nature of the money we use and those consequences of POM.
Moving on to school sports we find winning taking on a new level of importance. The game is no longer played for the fun of playing but is played to get victories and reflect credit on the school or community. Being from West Texas and having lived in small towns there, I know that a winning high school football team can be the most important thing in the community. I hope such extremes are not the norm across the nation but I realize that communities and school systems sometimes go to great lengths to field a winning team. Players and their families are actually recruited to attend high school in some districts. Otherwise, why would the same schools, year after year, somehow have the best players? Probability tells us that there’s something beyond chance events producing that result. The best players do sometimes transfer because their family wants them to get the best coaching or to have the best chance to win a scholarship to college but there’s more to it than just that.
Some schools have more money available to spend than others. This means that they have far better equipment and staff. Good coaches don’t come cheap. Football and some other sports’ equipment doesn’t come cheap. The concentration of POM in the hands of a few also applies to school sports in that the schools with more money have more success, which generates more money from greater attendance at their games and contributions from “boosters.” At the high school level, it is ceasing to be a game played just for fun. Many people besides the players and coaches are involved in winning and losing.
The next step up is college. At this level we get into major commerce. The big name schools have shoe company tie-ins in which the school advertises for the shoe company and the shoe company “donates” equipment for the team. The company also often pays the head coach and perhaps others for the privilege of making such a “donation.” The games are televised in many cases which generates more revenue for the school, the league, and the NCAA or other sports authority. Players’ names become “household words” in many families. The players lose their privacy. Favorable treatment in the classroom and before the law is commonplace. Supporters of the schools’ teams may make illegal gifts to prospects to entice them to attend and play for their favored team. Naturally, the players of the “money sports,” the sports that generate more income than they cost, are offered scholarships which cover room, board, tuition and fees, equipment, books and such. The better players are also likely to receive extra benefits like a little cash from boosters.
It will come as no surprise to most followers of team sports that such things as we have just mentioned go all the way back to the beginning of college sports. As soon as spectators begin to care about who would win, some would find ways to use money to give their team advantages. It’s only human. That will be the case so long as POM is used.
What does the importance of money in college athletics do to the NCAA, the college administrators, the power structure of the colleges, the activities of the alumni, and the perception of college life? To begin with, we all know that money is a corrupting influence, or at least POM certainly is. Successful college football coaches tend to make more salary and benefits than other college employees including the college presidents. The football stadium will typically be newer and better-equipped than the classrooms and laboratories of the campus. The best medical care available to the students is that provided to the athletes. Of course those athletes also need more medical care because of the injuries resulting from participating in their sport. On the other hand, those coaches bring in more money than they cost usually in game receipts and sales of sports gear with the school logo. Having a winning football team even increases the profits of the college town’s stores and other businesses: Fans coming to watch the games there spend money locally. So it makes good financial sense for the college administrators to attempt to acquire a winning coach. Since the stadium is part of what attracts good players and fans, that investment in the stadium with its dressing rooms, weight rooms, lounges, sky boxes and TV facilities does increase the school’s competitive situation. And of course that medical care for the athletes is an expected cost necessary to field the best team. This allocation of POM resources is quite logical and reasonable.
But does the college improve its educational product by having a winning athletic department? That’s hard to say. It does tend to increase applicants from high school graduates, which allows the school to improve the quality of its student body. Winning teams also appear to increase donations to academic programs as well as the athletic programs. Winning tends to make the public perception of the school more positive. Indirectly, therefore, the winning sports teams may make some contribution to academics, but it’s difficult to support the contention that the amount of effort expended on athletics is the best or most effective way to support academics.
Sports in college provide completely different functions than academics. Colleges are not just seats of higher education. They also provide community entertainment of which sports is a sizable proportion. Colleges provide opportunities for mate selection in that they expose young, single adults to others of similar age, education, and social class. You knew those sororities and fraternities had to have some purpose, right? Colleges also function as sources of progress in science. For the major research universities, this science and research function is the most important of all the institution’s functions for the society. Do sports in college detract from providing these other functions? Perhaps, in some very restricted way they do. The athletes are limited in what major subjects they can pursue in college because of the sheer amount of time they must devote to their sports in order to succeed. Thus a very few have careers in science or engineering. Faculty winning research grants don’t lose those grants if the sports teams lose. Young love still blossoms even if the sports teams lose.
That brings us to professional sports or, as I call it, athletic show business. Yes, I know that the major college teams are also in athletic show business. But there are lots of college teams which are not in show business. Many don’t even offer athletic scholarships. The National Football League and the National Basketball Association are pure show business. They benefit from the college provided “farm teams” which generate lots of fan interest around the league drafts of the college stars but they do not, themselves, operate the college teams nor do they pay those teams for the service.
At the pro level, money is triumphant and blatant. The owners of professional teams, enjoying a monopoly, put pressure on the local governments to provide huge subsidies in the form of stadiums and
arenas, parking, and police support. The threat to take their team to some other city is usually enough to get the local politicians to sacrifice the taxpayers’ interest in favor of the team owner’s interests.
Throughout this discourse I am confident that you already know almost everything I have to say. It’s just that I am trying to bring to your attention the role that the nature of our money plays in these affairs.
The players, leaving college, are finally allowed to employ agents to gain the advantages of professional representation from people who already “know the ropes” of professional sports. In some cases the agents take advantage of the player. In the old days, before agents represented players, the team owners routinely took great advantage of the players. Stars for many years would often finish their careers with almost nothing to show for their efforts except some vivid memories and old injuries. Now there are court cases in which some players are trying to gain a share of the billions that the NCAA organization gains. This contest in the courts may reshape college sports as we know it. Needless to say there are big-money interests involved which will exercise their power, using money to shape the outcome.
Over the last few years it has become obvious that professional football players often suffer concussions which, over time, lead to all sorts of brain damage conditions. The professional leagues have tried to ignore such things despite the player organization. Somehow, the profit margins of the NFL and the league owners have not suffered despite those injuries. Somehow, player health is not as important as team profits. The team doctors’ first job is to get the players back in action: Only secondarily is the player’s future health a concern.
The players in the professional leagues often make millions each year. I suppose that’s normal for show business. But it does seem strange in many ways that their contribution to public entertainment is considered to be more valuable than the contribution of a good teacher, policeman, scientist, or computer system administrator. Of course that’s my bias and reflects on me rather than on show business of any kind.
All the features and consequences of POM are reflected in its interplay with sports. POM is uncontrollable and thus is used in unethical ways to generate success in sports. We see this from little league sports on up. POM simulates a false zero-sum game relationship and the rivalries and animosity between teams and fans of teams reflects that attitude. Rather than being glad that others also like to play the same game and allow individuals and teams to show what they can do, the approach is often to destroy the opposition and prevent their playing well. POM is amoral and can be used for any purpose whether good or evil. Thus, POM is used to gain unfair advantages for one team, league, or conference. Players are exploited. POM can be taken against the will of the owner so rather than share the wealth generated by College or high school athletes with the athletes themselves, the institutions and coaches keep it for themselves. But then POM transactions are two-party interactions which are inherently unstable, so those with power use that power to gain still more power. The contracts which the players sign give all the advantages to the colleges or professional teams.
So how do you think the world of sports might be changed by a transition to a non-POM economy? If there are things wrong with sports in a POM economy, how would a change to non-POM help?
To begin with children’s sports, equipment for playing sports would not cost the children anything. Sports, when conducted well, benefit children by giving them exercise and opportunities to gain courage, confidence, and self-esteem. Those benefits would earn pay for those who help provide the equipment and the coaching. Also, faulty equipment which causes or does not prevent injury costs the producers future non-POM they might have otherwise earned. Coaches who harm their players physically or psychologically would lose income. Those who help coaches learn to do a good job earn non-POM. Providing fields of play and gymnasiums earns money if they are used safely. In other words, if something is done or provided which helps children that activity earns money. Sports can be beneficial to children, so helping to provide opportunities in sports for children can earn non-POM.
As children get older the schools can provide venues for sports. It costs a school nothing for equipment as noted for the younger children, coaches, or places to play; just as music and the arts cost the schools nothing for teachers, equipment, and places to perform. So money is no object when it comes to providing opportunities for all kinds of sports by schools. There’s no such thing as a “poor” school district with non-POM.
The coaches and administrators for schools earn non-POM for themselves and those who provide equipment and places to play by benefiting their players in any way – and by preventing harm to their players. Thus, the team’s won/lose record has little or nothing to do with the monetary rewards to be earned by those coaches and administrators: If the players perform well and have success, growing in confidence and self-esteem, the coaches will have earned non-POM thereby. If the playing of the games provides community entertainment and enhances school spirit then the players, coaches, and administrators will earn non-POM. Note that the players, no matter how young, can earn money in this way. If the players show good sportsmanship and teamwork, they earn more than they could by cheating to win. That good sportsmanship and teamwork gives the community a great example to follow. It sets a high standard for others to try to attain. Things like helping a fallen opponent to his feet and not hitting a defenseless player or using unnecessary roughness to make a play. One can play well without doing things that have a high chance of creating a serious injury. In other words, the whole motivation to play the game shifts from “win at all costs because losing is disaster” to “play as well as possible for the fun of success upon great effort.” You see, if you do something which injures another player, that action will cost you future income with non-POM. That’s a really big difference between sports now with POM and sports with a non-POM. That changes the way everyone involved will look at organized sports and training.
Players on school teams may not notice much difference (other than the fact that they get paid, and the coaches really insist on avoiding risky behavior) but when they graduate from high school the move to college will reveal considerably more differences. For one thing, colleges will not have budgets. Colleges will not spend money. Coaches will not be “on the road recruiting.” They may communicate by phone or social media with players they would like to coach. Boosters for one college team or another may try to convince good players to attend the school they support. But they cannot give non-POM either to the college or to those great high school players. They cannot promise a job to the player or the player’s family. There are no “jobs” with a non-POM economy. Each person is an independent entrepreneur working for him or her self. Of course, the well-heeled booster might present gifts to the prospect. But the transfer of ownership would be public information available to everyone. Such “bribery,” while quite legal in a non-POM context, is also quite public. Personally, I see no harm in this. The income which the player could earn playing for a major college would be quite a lot larger than a likely gift from a booster. The player would already have a substantial income from playing in high school. Is there a problem today with “boosters” giving college star players money or gifts to sign with the pro team of the booster’s choice? If there is, I have not heard of it. There are agents attracted to the star college players, but the agents are not working for the teams but to get money from the players in today’s pro sports. So the problems we have with “bag men” working for major college sports teams to bribe players to sign with their college would become trivial and insignificant. POM enables those “bag men” to bribe. Such activities would be impossible with non-POM.
So being recruited to play for a college team would be far less stressful and far less lucrative for high school stars. In fact, playing for a college team rather than jumping straight to the “professional” leagues would be the exception. The only difference between “college” and “pro” would be that the pros would not be attending college full time. Both kinds of teams would earn money for the players. But the players for the college teams would not have to meet any academic requirements. It really doesn’t matter, after all, for the game or the schools or the players or anything else what academic subjects the players for a college team are studying or how much or how fast they are learning those subjects. But if one is living at a college taking courses there is much easier than if one is working for a “professional” team in a distant city. So for those players who want a college education, playing for a college is a way to earn money while attending college. When they have had all the college education they want, they may shift to some other team not based at a college or do some other work instead.
Naturally this also eliminates the handlers. Those are people who gain the confidence one way or another of the player and his family to use that influence for the purpose of gaining money from the parties recruiting that player to the school of their choice.
You will note that with non-POM there are no college scholarships for anyone for any subject area. All college educations are free with no tuition or fees, no costs for room and board or even basic clothing for that matter. Healthcare is also without charge, so one does not need to play ball to get a college education. Thus the coach has no threat to hold over the heads of the players. If they do what he tells them to do it is because they want that direction. Naturally, the coach has no responsibility for the players’ education in anything but their sport. Thus all the duplicity and fraud currently found in the college sports world will be eliminated as useless and unneeded. All the participants can attain their ends more easily without the use of cheating.
There will still be fans and school colors and team regalia and big games and sports reporters and even pranks by opposing student bodies. (One hopes the pranks are ingenious and safe.) There will even be bets on the outcome of games. But there will be no bookies and no betting lines and no bribery of players for point-shaving. Since non-POM cannot be given to someone else, there is no way to pay off a bet using non-POM. One would have to buy some luxury item and give that to the party winning the bet. But though that works just fine among friends, it doesn’t work for professional gamblers. So the organized crime aspects of gambling on sports would disappear without any need for laws or law enforcement. There would just be no way to mass-market gambling without POM.
Moving on to the professional leagues, there would be no team owners. Yes, I know it’s every boy’s dream to grow up to own the NY Yankees or the Los Angeles Lakers or, perhaps, if he’s from Texas, the Dallas Cowboys. But with non-POM those dreams are ended. Just as there are no scholarship contracts in college so are there no contracts for players in professional sports. The teams do not pay the players any more than the colleges pay their players. The players choose which team they will play for. How do they make that choice? Well, that depends on how the league is organized. The players and the support personnel like coaches, trainers, doctors, secretaries, and stadium maintenance personnel all earn income from the benefits their actions produce. So to make the games interesting and the competition for the league championship meaningful, the teams need to have a relative balance. Players who are stars for one team can build local fan support by playing for the same team year after year. But the situation is one of a pure free market. Players can agree to follow the conventions of the league and thus participate, or they can choose to do something else (or nothing at all) to earn non-POM (or earn nothing). Contracts do not exist in a non-POM economy. If one indicates to one and all that one is going to do something and then does not do it, that behavior will become a part of one’s reputation. It will be known. People will not want to deal with and work with those who cannot be trusted. So if a player wants to play with team X for a year and then suddenly after a few months asks to join team Y, both teams will be likely to reject such a player. That applies to all work in all situations that require cooperation for production. Sports are no exception. Contracts are therefore unnecessary. They would also be unenforceable. Non-POM does not support slavery. If one chooses to not live up to their word, they will suffer the consequences without any need for law or enforcement. There is no need to apply force in such a situation.
Without team owners, there is no pressure on a city government to give money or subsidies (like stadiums) to professional teams. With non-POM all property is owned by single individuals. There is no joint ownership of anything. So the equipment, the venue, everything is owned by some participant who is voluntarily choosing to employ or contribute that material to the presentation of the show. The team is just a set of people who participate in putting on a good show. Their association is completely voluntary.
There are no player unions in conflict with management because all unions and the people they work with are on the same side. Neither can benefit unless the others also benefit.
There are no TV contracts. There are no player endorsements for money. There are bowl games but without the company names. There may well be a player draft for those players who would like to join some team but there’s no need for contract negotiations or agents involvement after the draft. Also, one suspects that some players could put themselves “back in the draft” if they were dissatisfied with their current situation. With no team owners hiring coaches, it’s the players who somehow select the coaches. After all, there’s no reason why the players have to pay any attention to the coaches other than that doing so helps them put on a more successful show.
From the fan’s point of view the games continue but without the ads both on the field and on the media. No media time outs. Fans would have to pay for team logo gear but nowhere near as much as it costs now. So if we make the switch to non-POM you can still gamble among friends, cheer your teams on to victory and watch them on TV.