It is very easy to point fingers at other people and to use the relative anonymity that is provided by being an obscure and unimportant person in the grand scheme of life as a cover for taking any of the shared responsibility we face for the state of our present evil world. Earlier today I had the opportunity to look at an article about a massive lawsuit filed against the NFL by former athletes claiming that the league hid their knowledge of concussions and other serious health problems . Certainly, without a doubt, that league and others have been complicit in wishing to avoid the expenditures caused by injuries by players by providing for generous retirement pay and privileges to those who have made owners hundreds of millions of dollars but at the cost of their health and well-being.
There are blames on a lot of sides in problems like this. For one, the league represents owners who simply make a huge amount of money in very corrupt ways–by profiting from the gladitorial games played on by others who risk their health, and from their private ownership of stadiums paid for by largely public funds. The players too share part of the blame in seeking to earn massive incomes that they hope will lead to honor, respect, and wealth despite the massive risks to their health, through the development of skills that make them popular but put them at risk. And also, we are to blame because our support of sports allows corrupt owners to profit at the public expense, and because our support of sports and franchises is what encourages people at all levels from childhood on up to put their health at risk in playing violent games. Were there no great demand for athletics, there would be no great supply of overpaid professional athletes or corrupt owners looting the people by holding cities hostages over sports teams.
There are many ways in which our behavior toward sports is blameworthy and not praiseworthy. And we have a share in the blame that we are often unwilling to accept. Some of these are rather straightforward acts of corruption on our part, including the way in which our love of the athletic deeds of human flesh and horse flesh and our desire to beat the odds often leads us to gamble on sports and provide for the seediness of gambling lines and the criminal underbelly that feeds off of such greed and love of risk by profiting for itself in setting odds or running casinos and other gambling establishments.
In addition, our love of athletics often leads us to objectify human beings. We view human beings for the statistics that they bring to our fantasy squad (not being as concerned about the team aspects of games as about individual superstars and their feats). We objectify both men and women, whether athletes or cheerleaders, seeing sports and sports presentations as an opportunity to gratify our sensual lusts and appetites, or to judge attractiveness by such superficial means as income, athletic ability, or by the dance moves intended to whip up the home crowds. And yet we are not manipulated against our will, but rather willingly and openly and freely.
The popular support that we give to athletics presents the atmosphere that inspires the greed and corruption of the sports world in general. It is the fact that fans of sports are a multi-billion dollar market, whether we are dealing with college athletics, or pro leagues of a variety of different sports, that leads to such evils as college athletics officials being bribed by bowl employees, endless college realignment as colleges fight for their place on the gravy train, frequent lockouts and strikes between players’ unions and owners and even the referees’ unions fighting over the money that comes from fans in a myriad of different ways, or the blatant corruption of taxpayers funding privately owned stadiums for billionaire owners. Without our support of these games, there would be no massively powerful and corrupt institutions fighting for our money and our support. Their conflicts spring from their greed for what we willingly give, and so we bear responsibility for encouraging the worse nature of others to fight to provide us with circuses at our expense.
And this problem, even related to sports, goes far beyond simply athletics itself. It is a question of priorities. The high prestige and status of athletics often leads schools and school systems to pump large amounts of money into such sports (whose budgets cannot be cut without massive outcry from boosters and fans) at the expense of more valuable and socially productive educational and artistic pursuits. If a school has to choose between its engineering school and its football team, or its orchestra and its basketball team, the sports team is probably going to come out ahead because of our misguided sense of priorities toward rewarding a privileged few with a particular skill, rather than presenting a well-rounded institution that provides for the development of all skills and abilities, and that is geared toward long-term social benefit rather than short-term entertainment. We all bear some share of that blame, because it is our choices and our partisanship and our skewed priorities that result in such misguided behavior.
There are even more unsettling ways that our fascination with athletics leads to great evil whose blame points at least partially on us. The fact that athletics are considered to be the main escape route out of poverty leads vulnerable young people to be concentrated in athletic pursuits where they are prey to disappointment (and a lack of other options) as well as predators who see the presence of a large number of vulnerable young people as an opportunity for them to fulfill their own corrupt lusts. We have seen the phenomenon of serial sexual predators latching on to positions as assistant coaches in the college ranks of football and basketball, for example, at such major schools as Syracuse and Penn State. We are to blame, because instead of providing many opportunities and routes of social advancement we have limited options for others and forced the ambitious into a few places where they can be easily taken advantage of by others.
In an age where our infrastructure is falling apart, where we are crushed by a burden of public and private debt, where we face grave threats to our own well-being because of the combination of evils from the left and the right, still we devote an extraordinary amount of time and attention and resources to rather unproductive entertainment like professional and collegiate athletics. In so doing we tell governments where to prioritize our tax money by our own clear preference for present amusement over long-term investment. We get what we want, and so we will ultimately get what we deserve, a decaying civilization braying for blood and demanding bread and circuses from an increasingly remote and corrupt political and economic establishment as we become increasingly alienated from our leaders and from each other. And we will be too busy howling over the chariot races and gladitorial games in our stadiums to lift a finger to save our civilization from self-destruction. We are no better than the senseless Romans of nearly two thousand years ago, and unless we wisen up, we will share their fate.
But people whipped into a frenzy by lust and unwilling to face their own share in the blame for the frivolity and superficiality and corruption of our sports and entertainment and unwilling to face the deeper problems and work toward gradual and long-term solutions to our crises are not likely to be wise. Wisdom depends on working against the baser parts of our nature, and learning to master our selves and face up to our share of the blame for the unacceptable state of affairs in all parts of our culture and society. If our culture is debased, it is so in large part because we wish it so, because we reward immorality and evil by our support and endorsement, and because we punish virtue with our votes and pocketbooks.
And so we will get the entertainment, culture, and government we deserve, feeding our vanity and corruption and leading us into still worse sins as we become sated by old vices. But let us not point our fingers only at greedy billionaire owners or overpaid athletes (and singers and actors as well), for they would not be wealthy if we did not make it so ourselves. We are to blame for looking at entertainers as more than mere humans and rewarding them as stars with respect and honor and money. And we will not find a better culture until we become better people ourselves.