In ancient Rome, the high profile sports stars of the day, were Gladiators!
Men who risked their lives each day in an arena, not knowing if their next day would be their last. While these men were slaves, many of the great fighters were living with many benefits and people who barely had two brass coins to rub together, would spend their hard earned money, watching such games....some might say that the "Rockstar Athlete" was born!
Since that time and through Olympiads and the growth of sporting competition over the ages, people have been able to make a "career" from sporting competition. Yet it has not been until the last 40 years, that this "career" has grown to levels of salaries that not even the greatest of brains in the public and private sector can come anywhere near to matching!
The one industry that rivals professional sports currently, is "Entertainment" - Film Music and TV are providing the path to "fame and fortune", which in itself provides the core basis for these over-inflated salaries. But are they based on demand from the working man/woman on the street???
The NBA now faces a Lockout, similar to that of the NFL in the past, as it seems that the "paymasters" have started to object to the levels of salary that are being paid to its athletes and the question has to be asked....is this for the greater good?
Or simply a means for the owners to try and squeeze more juice from the fruit, during tougher times?
In 2011, the world faces economic troubles and problems on the horizon which people with common sense could see coming.... while those in avenues and corridors of power and the banking world, simply tried to hide or cover up with smoke and mirrors and even more clever ways to move money around. The net result was always going to be the same thing.... You cannot simply borrow more and more money, no matter what the reason, without recourse!
Economies in Europe have collapsed, with certain countries in financial ruin, holding their hands out to co-member states not just once..but several times, simply because they are too incompetent to recognise the need to change what is clearly a disfunctional government with mismanaged economic policies. Unfortunately, it seems that the average man and woman working within other countries are now having to foot the bill, at the whim of faceless bureaucrats.
While many may consider this a problem the US does not have to face... reality is, the US has current debts (mainly now held by China) which it simply cannot pay if the marker was called tomorrow. Obama is facing an enormous mountain to climb in terms of economic reform and unless he can make a significant dent in the defense/military spend budget, he simply does not have a hope in hell, of turning the US economy around. (Convenient then to "suddenly" find a guy that has been evasive for 10 years, some say dead for 6 years, yet have a public mission/execution success, with no evidence to back up said claims, yet all the ammunition required to now begin withdrawal of US troops and the beginning of reduced defence spending...hooorar!)
In short.... the US is facing just as big an economic crisis as the rest of the world...if not bigger.
We turn to the professional athlete. Over the last few years, how much have we seen salaries "reduce" in order to reflect the current situation faced by hundreds of millions of tax paying citizens, the world over? Not much, I can tell you that.
In fact.... professional sports athletes the world over, have seen their salaries rise (and expectantly) while the very people who pay to watch them perform, find the dollar/pound/euro in their pocket, buying less and less each day.
Now...before I go any further, I must caveat that not all professional athletes are staring at huge pay checks every month and many, while slaving at their profession, live in very tough conditions, hoping for that successful day when they look at their bank statement in the black...rather than the red!
But we are discussing the NBA here and along with football (the global variety), it has become the norm for salaries to reach astronomical levels and ridiculous for some players who many would consider 'average' at best. Why therefore do the players of the NBA feel that is it right that from the world's top 30 earning professional athletes - 7 are from the NBA?
In this group... Tiger Woods remains number 1 supported for Golf by Phil Mickleson at 5, yet both of these guys have "earned" the majority of their money through success and endorsements. In the NBA, it seems that players like LeBron, Wade and Bosh can take "reduced" salaries in order to play together, yet stil remain as some of the highest paid athletes in the world?
Compare this with Motorsport, with 6 drivers/riders taking slots in the top 30. However some are watched by the worlds largest spectator sport covering billions of people throughout the globe (Formula 1) as well as Nascar drivers and MotorGP star Valentino Rossi. Now, it could be fair to say that these guys, along with Manny Pacquaio (ranked 24) DO ACTUALLY risk life and limb, each day that they compete...similar to the danger faced by the Gladiators in ancient Rome! NBA players????? not so much.
Football (global) players are similar to their NBA colleagues... they have become expectant of $20,000 per week for even the most average of players, with the top stars earning well over $300,000 per week. Yet many of the $20,000 per week players are simply "marginally" better than players in lower leagues earning a mere fraction of that salary.
Unfortunately, with wealth and fortune in sports, often comes arrogance and many have long forgotten the virtue of the professional athlete and that is to inspire the next generation of athletes, the youngsters, the guys still getting up at 3am everyday and training all day, to achieve that Olympic Gold, or National championship....
As an example...when was the last time Andris Biedrins got up at 3am to be in the gym at 5am shooting free throws for 2 hours everyday???? Frankly Andris.... your free throw is so shockingly and disgustingly bad, your contract should be cancelled for "false advertising" as you are simply not delivering the product you are paid to deliver. In most industries, this is simply not allowed, yet your iron-clad contract enables you to perform at a truly pathetic level that you should be ashamed of.
Harsh? Maybe... but a player earning 7 digits a year with such a terrible free throw, is showing that he clearly does not have the fortitude to spend hours and hours everyday in the gym to improve what is a considerable weakness for a guy in the paint!
The NBA has become a "bling" culture, with many wearing rocks in their ears the size of Gibraltar (its an island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain). ;)
I in fact look forward to the day a journalist asks the question of these atheletes...."Excuse me sir.... but are those diamonds in your ears CONFLICT FREE?". It seems the difficult questions are taboo, as the image of excess be it diamonds, cars, clothes, houses, etc, has become the norm for the top stars of the NBA and to a certain extent, I applaud David Stern and the NBA for trying to take a stand against this.
But this does beg the question...... Is the lock-out being done for such reasons?
I would very much like to believe that it is, however I fear it is not. I get the distinct sniff of "greed" in tough times, being the primary driver for such action. Therefore I can understand the majority of the press seeming to want to attack the NBA and David Stern for "denying" the public their NBA stars.....but the media themselves need to do their jobs and actually start asking the players if they understand the current global economic crisis that is unfolding before our very eyes and what part will THEY play in showing they realise that the "Cristal" needs to be put on ice...and that they and their teammates are prepared to take a reduction in their pay packets, so that the organisations might be able to offer lower ticket pricing, to the the very people that support the sport...THE PUBLIC!
Alas...I suspect that there are few that believe that any reduction in player salaries will actually filter down to the man/woman on the street that enjoys his moment of "escapism" from the daily toil, to watch a sport they can truly get behind. A task which is proving harder to justify by the week...especially when it comes to Season tickets.
In my personal opinion, many players (not all, there are some very humble and charity focused players) have become far too expectant of what is considered the "norm" for their daily job, which lets face it... is a great deal less demanding than many sports and a great deal safer than many sports. Yet somehow, they seem convinced that they should remain to be paid more than anyone else?
But this raises a further question....how much of this is in fact the players??? and how much is in fact the players agent???? To me personally, the Sports Agent has become a parasite to sport akin to the ambulance chasing lawyers that are putting everyone's yearly insurance premiums up and up, with their law suits and "personal injury" cases. The sports agent is a "tick" attached to the back of the dog, that frankly gets in the way of commonsense, simply because he is trying to leverage his fee percentage upwards, while using the efforts, name and reputation of his client to pad his own personal wallet....
As you can tell... I don't really have time for many of these individuals, however you will see that exact same types of guys in the sports agent business, are also in the legal community, in the investment banking community, in the film industry, within media.... most of these guys make Gordon Gekko look like a saint! There is a stomach turning desire for many of these guys to simply obsess about the greenback as being 'King'. whatever happened to;
You shall not make for yourself an idol
Therefore, at this time, I am none the wiser as to who the "villain" is in this Lockout?
Is it the players? - Should they accept the position of the world today and agree that due to unusual circumstances, they must do their part?
Is it David stern? - Is he doing this for the greater good of the sport and it's fans? or is he simply carving himself a larger slice of pie in tougher economic times where media cannot pay what it used to for his product?
Is it the owners? - Do they truly care about being able to reduce costs for the working man/woman to attend their beloved sport? Or is it purely about about making more revenue during times of greater costs?
One thing is for sure.... the US media is doing a god awful job of actually finding out answers to these questions and for that it should also be ashamed. Instead it is focusing on the "battle" for control and who is going to win, as opposed to getting to the route reason and cause for this lockout?
My personal hope.... naive as this maybe, is that somehow, the greater good can be considered by ALL SIDES. This will require Mr Stern to get off his backside and reduce the costs for franchises and media rights. It will require Franchises to clearly define how any savings made, will be fed back to the core fanbase.... and it will finally be for the players to consider their position as simply being entertainers.... no different to that of the gladiator...only they can go home to a comfy bed at night, knowing that they will wake the next day to do something they love and choose to do, rather than "have" to do.....
Finally.... I would like to see performance related pay to the players! Give them incentive to perform, similar to that of the golfer. I suspect we would see a great deal more effort being delivered by certain players and true reward going to those that have achieved most, rather than those who "think" they are the best.
As for the sports agents..... let's bring back the Gladiator arena's for them! ;)
So what are your views on this?.... discuss below. Thanks for taking the time to read this, I will be interested to watch from across the pond as to how this develops over the summer.