It is a given that sports, just as the rest of our contemporary existence, seems hopelessly mired in corruption. The Miami Marlins (whose name recently was changed from the Florida Marlins, in recognition of the fact that there exists a large part of Florida that is quite far away from Miami) have bilked taxpayers, possibly through bribery that is being investigated by the SEC, a federal anti-corruption agency , is only one element of this continued fraud. It is not my point to plumb the endless depths of corruption to which athletics in our society have crumbled, and which no doubt have mirrors in other societies.
It is my intent, however, to examine what our responsibility is in this particular mess. After all, we can do very little about the corruption of other people. It is our own participation in the corruption which enables the larger corrupt culture to exist without repercussions. And we cannot merely point fingers at other people and avoid our own responsibility in the matter. Even more distressingly, this corruption has much to do with idolatrous and pagan worldviews and mindsets that are very difficult to fully eradicate among us, no matter our own official hostility to them.
So, what role do we play in this corruption? Most teams are owned by very wealthy people (there are very few exceptions, like the Green Bay Packers). These multimillionaires or billionaires or groups of millionaires own the teams and (usually) profit from them, though they occasionally may show a loss if they are spectacularly incompetent, or may pretend to show a loss if they are trying to plead poverty to their fans (for not having a winning team or when trying to get the taxpayers to pay for a stadium for their own increased personal profit). We must remember this first, that the teams we support and cheer on are the property of very wealthy people, most of whom are looking for their teams to help increase their personal wealth.
Let us also note that communities often feel an ownership of “their” teams as well, whether we are talking about college teams that are the property of “not-for-profit” universities or professional teams that are owned by the wealthy people discussed previously. Already we see the potential here for corruption between cities that claim ownership of teams (and support them loyally, going to the stadium, buying their apparel, watching their games on television) and the people who actually own the teams. Cities give parades to honor champions and often call for the firing of coaches who are unable to win (and, sports being a zero-sum competitive game, there are always going to be winners, losers, and mediocre teams, since not everyone can win but everyone demands that “their” team win).
Of course, the people who own teams are very aware of the extent to which there is loyal support (or not) within a given community, and for the last two decades have held city after city ransom to corruptly use taxpayer money to build stadiums to personal profit, paid for by taxpayers but owned by the wealthy team owners. Most cities would rather cave in to the pressure of team owners who (not very convincingly) plead poverty to appeal their sports-loving citizens than to let those owners try their luck elsewhere, because there is always a limited supply of elite teams in a given league and any number of cities that can be used as rivals to hold a given city hostage.
But such corruption only works if we allow it to work. After all, if there were no professional sports of any kind (or organized college athletics), the world would not be harmed in any way. In fact, it may be a bit better off since money that is diverted to overpriced tickets and food within stadiums may be used for other purposes, and conflicts that arise over athletics would have to find some other ground to begin on. The point is that as corrupt as sports is, it is corrupt because we demand that our teams win, we demand that our teams remain in our city (if we are passionate about professional sports). It is we who provide the political cover for billionaire owners to rob us in increased taxes and then charge us for the houses we have built for their teams.
In short, fans are part of the problem. It is not the people of Los Angeles that are passionate about professional football, for example, but rather wealthy real estate investors who believe that the existence of a team in Los Angeles will make them wealthier and prove a sound financial investment. That depends on there being enough foolish and gullible fans to make that calculation work out. Professional hockey has largely failed in the South (Atlanta recently lost its team to Winnipeg and Phoenix may lose their soon) simply because not enough passionate fans exist in some areas to watch a cold weather sport. When profits fail, owners show no loyalty to communities. Their only loyalty is to their own interests. It’s simply not worth wrapping any part of your happiness and self-esteem to the fortunes of teams in that circumstance. Rather, one must recognize the corruption that they bring through subsidization and the diversion of resources that could be better spent elsewhere, if you choose.