Money, Fans, Fun & Fortunate Sons
My family members have been involved in sports, specifically baseball, for several generations and this has given me an objective view of professional athletes. Most fans have an illusion that the game is easy. They may know the rules and watch hours of play, but until they become close to a player or actually attempt to play the game they are never fair in their judgements.
Most of the players who make it to the pros have spent more than a decade playing the sport. Less than one percent of all Little Leaguers make “The Show,” the nickname pros have given Major League Baseball (MLB). Less than eleven in a hundred, or about 10.5 percent, of National Collegiate Athletic Association senior male baseball players will get drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Approximately one in 200, roughly half a percent, of high school senior boys playing interscholastic baseball will eventually be drafted by an MLB team. Since 1871, out of a total of 19,966 players only 333 have been voted into the Hall of Fame. In other words, only 1.6 percent of all MLB players are considered the “greats.” To further appreciate the difficulty of playing professional baseball, realize that those same great players were unsuccessful at the plate 65% of the time.
This weekend we are experiencing one of the grand traditions of American sports, the drafting of eligible players into the National Football League from the college ranks. Unlike baseball, professional football doesn’t have minor leagues from which to draw new players, so they deploy an organized, rule-based system to obtain the greatest college players into the league. To put it in layman terms, the worst teams get the first choice of available players. This process is designed to bring parody to the league, make competition fair and eliminate the advantage of rich teams in large cities. For the most part it works well but doesn’t stop a well-financed team trading for a higher draft pick by giving another team more than one player or a really great player they would have no chance of getting in the draft.
Even with such cunning skullduggery, there is no guarantee that having the best new players will get a team to the promised land of football, the Superbowl. For example, Tampa Bay had a decent team but when they added Tom Brady, a guaranteed hall of famer, to their lineup – BAM! — they won the big game. However, that achievement also depended on good plays, excellent coaching, and oh yeah, did I mention, a really good quarterback.
Some people put down players by calling them “cry-babies” or “spoiled millionaires,” without considering they worked their asses off for more than ten years to get where they are and they must continue to stay in shape and remain sharp or they will get deleted from the roster. Tons of money supports professional football and the sport demands as much perfection as humanly possible. The resulting pressure has pushed some players to take performance enhancing drugs or seek advantages in the strangest ways. Even the great Tom Brady was accused of asking for the football to be slightly underinflated to give him a better grip. Hey, it’s short of steroids but still not right.
When the 2020 Covid-19 crisis threatened the college football and basketball seasons, many were concerned about the potential damage that would affect players trying to make the pros. Basketball teams are smaller in numbers and the shutdown of March Madness last year was bad for the players. College football finally got up to full speed and championship games were played, giving potential pros a chance to strut their stuff. This weekend’s draft will bring us the results of that play.
The number one pick in this year’s draft was Clemson’s quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and he was taken by the team with last year’s worst NFL record, Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars will probably give Mr. Lawrence a contract worth nearly $37 million, and if he produces and the team has a winning year the investment will be well worth it. Not all number one picks go on to be Hall of Famers. Injuries, underperforming teams and mishandling fame and fortune have dethroned many in the history of football, but such things give the fans lots to talk about.
My hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, always look for great players. I was happy to see them get some good ones this year, but it’s a big business and all the other teams are trying to do the same thing. Beyond the money and fortunate sons, there is a desire for city pride, intense excitement and the glory of a championship. The word “fan” came about when someone called them “fanatics,” and such obsession is not purely American. All over the world people are more than fanatical about their “football” teams. It’s just FUN! Stop complaining about how much money they make. Well, maybe complain a little bit. Have you seen the prices of the tickets today? WTF? Why do they make so much? Oh yeah, because someone pays them that much. Chill, it’s out of your hands.
Every new season brings rebirth and a fresh start. May the best teams win, especially my team, and should that not happen I’m sure the fans will be yelling, “Hey, open up your checkbook and buy some good players.” So, you see, we are the problem.
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Gold, God, Guns & Goofballs: If you only read one chapter of this book, try “Take a Knee for America” and think about our never-ending conflicts between minorities and the police. I’m not asking you to take a stand but having a deep and honest conversation about why some people think the way they do would be productive. This is a book for the moment which seeks to start a conversation about peace. And if you are worried about social media, you really should check out the chapter called “Social Media Menace.”