Always there are rumblings that the next round of negotiations regarding a basic agreement for NBA players or NFL players or Major League Baseball players will be contentious enough to provoke a lockout or a strike because the league commissioners claim that expenses are becoming ruinous.
Yet somehow the owners of the teams manage to pay their players plenty. This week’s temporarily record-breaking contract has quarterback Eli Manning receiving $97 million from the New York Giants over the next six football seasons.
Everywhere in our bankrupt newspapers and on our allegedly-news television shows there are stories urging us to flush our toilets less frequently and tips about how to save money by eating the cardboard cartons in which our food is packaged and teaching our children to weave their own shoes from litter.
Our games are meant to be a diversion from bad news, but these days the fragile rush that comes when our team wins and the temporary gloom that settles over us after a loss seem to be overshadowed by stories of the football player who’s likely to go to jail for shooting himself in the leg, the previously heroic and loveable baseball player who’s turned out to be another artificially-enhanced slugger, the basketball player given to broadcasting over the Internet his own sad, emotional turmoil.
It’s all entertainment, I suppose, still a diversion of sorts. But in a time when we’re at least as likely to ridicule our athletes for being stupid, dishonest or intoxicated with the illusion of their own significance as we are to cheer them for their physical accomplishments, it seems possible, if not likely, that at some point numbers of those who’ve traditionally cared about our games will turn away from them.
Maybe it will be more dramatic than that. Maybe in some stadium subsidized by money diverted from the maintenance of schools and bridges, lots of people will spontaneously rise out of their expensive seats, throw their $8 beers toward the field and howl their collective dismay at a culture that pays its athletes tens of millions of dollars while failing to provide health insurance not only to millions of its most vulnerable citizens, but to lots of the very people paying plenty to take in the happy circus of sports.
Yeah, I’d buy a ticket for that.
Bill Littlefield comments on sports for WBUR and hosts “Only A Game” each Saturday at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.