Saturday Survey: Sports & Society

little leagueWith LA’s Civic Fathers (and Mothers) contemplating spending millions of scarce taxpayer money on a professional football stadium for Downtown Los Angeles and Penn State’s vaunted football program in shambles after a decade-long child rape coverup scandal has come to light, our LA Progressive survey from two Saturdays ago wondered what role spectator sports should play in our society.

Response was overwhelmingly opposed to the construction of the proposed Farmers Field in Downtown Los Angeles, with 67% strongly opposed and another 9% somewhat opposed. Just 3% — or two people out of the 79 respondents — were strongly in favor.

The opposition took several forms. The strongest thread involved spending public funds for private endeavors, especially in tough economic times. These responses were representative:

With people out of work and home, with poverty rates soaring, it is nuts to spend public money on a stadium for the purpose of private profit.

and

I am not a fan of professional sports, so my tax money should not be used as corporate welfare for such private profit endeavors, favored by a narrow proportion of individuals. I prefer that public funds be directed towards endeavors with demonstrable benefits for all society; such as education, health and safety, and public works. I would not oppose construction of such facilities if there is a obvious public revenue benefit, such as public ownership (and profit participation) of the team, along the lines of the Green Bay Packers. In other words, public sporting facilities should only be supported if they produce revenue for local government.

sports obsession 1The idea of public ownership of the professional football team that will eventually play in the proposed stadium, similar to the Green Bay Packers example, came up more than once, a possibility that is probably as likely to happen as Mayor Villaraigosa building a condo complex for Occupy LA on City Hall’s lawn.

A second thread had to do with the public’s focus on athletics:

Pro sports are bad for America. They inculcate the idea that physical strength is everything. Sportsmanship–the ability to win graciously and lose gracefully — has been replaced by “winning is the only thing.” I HATE sports as they are and do not want one penny of money I earn going to support them. Let the billionaire team owners build their own damned stadium.

Our survey was taken to task for bias in the questions, such as the talk of “spending millions of scarce taxpayer money” and “America’s preoccupation with sports,” which in retrospect is certainly true.

Support for the stadium plans took an economic turn:

Sports franchises can be HUGE economic stimuli for local economies: restaurants, bars, retail, condo development, and JOB CREATION: ushers, ticket takers, private concessionaires (I was one for the GS Warriors but the fucking NBA is locked out.)

(Find all written responses on the following page.)

Survey responses were equally as damning on the child rape and long-term coverup scandal at Penn State, with 66% agreeing that major college football programs wield far too much power and 38% indicating that spectator sports tend to make Americans watchers rather than doers.

Another 11% though college football is great all around — for spectators, athletes, alumni, and students — and 8% pointed to the tons of money successful teams bring to their schools. Reportedly, Penn State’s football program under Coach Joe Paterno brings in $50 million year after year.

What Sports Say About Us

sports obsession 3The wording of our question naturally led to rather harsh condemnation of spectator sports and the time Americans spend watching them:

A lot of Americans are stupid and spend inordinate amount of time on the couch or in the bar watching extremely overpaid professional athletes who don’t care who is watching or if they are watching.

and

Sounds like the Romans where the upper class fed the poor bread and circuses. Vicarious success on the playing field has led to over-emphasis on children winning when they should be having fun, funding for sports facilities taking precedence over education and health care, and leads to the win/lose aggressiveness that fuels racism, vengeful support for executions, the rise of the 1%, the blaming of the 99% for their suffering…need I go on?

Others took a more measured approach:

We are a celebrity culture, mainly, given too much to being spectators. But sports can be terrific: a way to promote healthy bodies and to fight obesity as well as to one arena where skill, not money, can potentially be the major factor for success.

Several objected to our emphasis on “American obsession,” and certainly it’s easy enough to find examples of other countries where sports predominates. I recall walking through a Madrid neighborhood on a brutally hot afternoon when Spain’s soccer team was in the World Cup finals. The usually crowded street was utterly deserted, save for my wife, daughter, and I, a couple gypsy beggars, and the sound of the game on televisions in the buildings on all sides of us.

A Girl, a Whiskey Flask, and a Frosty Football Afternoon

Asked to relate their favorite sports-related memory, several cited familiar, iconic events:

Being from Los Angeles it has to be, of course, no doubt, absolutely, no question about it, Kirk Gibson’s 9th inning, two-out, full-count, game winning homerun in the 1988 World Series against Oakland. Wow. What baseball (and sports in general) is all about!

1968 Olympics when Carlos and Edwards raised the fists in protest of racism.

Others had more personal memories:

1964 NFL championship game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Sky suites were open bleachers less than 500 yards from Lake Erie. Tickets were 5 or 6 bucks. Dr. Frank Ryan dissected the Baltimore defense with rainbows to Gary Collins and everyone in Cleveland was proud for a long time, and had something to share. We owned that team, and the players owned that community and there was a bond. Can’t happen now.

Striking out seven batters in a row in little league when I was ten.

I played a million hours of sports when I was a youngster — baseball, football, wrestling, and especially rugby — without any great skill but with all the earnest effort and joy a kid can offer. If I must pick one memory, it would be the complete-game, three-hit shutout I pitched in a Little League championship game.

I was the team’s second pitcher, behind a kid named Jackie Werner who went on to play professional baseball. I had a big curve and a rising fastball, but Jackie had those in spades, plus a slider, a hotter fastball, and better control.

Little League rules limited the number of innings any pitcher could pitch in a week, so I had to pitch a pivotal game that all the other players, the coaches — maybe including my Dad — and the team’s fans wished Jackie could pitch. But he’d used up his innings and I got the ball.

dick priceMy curveball was especially sharp that afternoon and I threw one strike after another. It was a nice feeling walking off the field after striking out the last batter.

Maybe almost nice a feeling as the fellow who recalled, “Being with a girlfriend and drinking whiskey from a flask on a frosty football afternoon Back East.”

There is always that.

Dick Price
LA Progressive, Editor

All responses on the next page

Published by the LA Progressive on November 25, 2011
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About Dick Price

Dick Price is Editor of the LA Progressive. With his wife Sharon, he publishes several other print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues. He has worked in publishing as a writer, editor, and publisher for a quarter century. In earlier releases, he was a cab driver, bartender, construction worker, soldier, and farmhand, and for many years helped operate a nonprofit halfway house for homeless alcoholics and addicts. To contact him, please use the form on the Contact Us page.