Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book review - Game Over: How Politics has Turned the Sporting World Upside Down

I'm a big baseball, soccer and college football fan. I grew up playing sports and I believe that a classical education requires working both the brain and the body. My girls have been playing soccer since they were three and they both swim during the summer.

In addition to keeping up with the goings-on in the "real world," I also stay informed about what's happening in the world of sport. And that's why I find David Zirin's book, Game Over: How Politics has Turned the Sporting World Upside Down, so fascinating.

Mr. Zirin doesn't watch his sports in a vacuum. He watches it in the context of the issues that affect each of us everyday. Take immigration, for instance. Mr. Zirin recounts how the players (and owners) of the Phoenix Suns protested the anti-immigrant laws passed in Arizona by wearing their "Los Suns" jerseys for a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs. That's something you rarely see in this age of slick marketing campaigns and celebrity endorsers. It was a courageous stand to take.

Unfortunately the same thing cannot be said of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig who had no problem with baseball's All-Star Game being played in Phoenix after the passage of the bills. It obviously didn't matter to Mr. Selig that about a quarter of the players in the major leagues aren't from the US. Most of them hail from Latin America - and those are the folks the laws in Arizona were targeted after. Mr. Selig could have taken a stand and moved the game somewhere else. The players' union could have stood up for its Latin American members. But no one did.

In Game Over, Mr. Zirin introduces us to athletes who spoke out against corporate greed during the Occupy! protests. He takes us inside the world of hard-core soccer fans (ultras) in Egypt and the role they played in the uprising that topped a dictator. He also tackles the hypocrisy of college athletics.

The big money grab in college sports has led to conference realignment and the destruction of age old rivalries all in the name of money. But who's benefiting from all the cash flowing into the coffers of conferences and schools? Not the athletes. Who's getting the money from the jersey sales and the video game sales? Not the athletes.

I don't pretend to know what needs to be done to clean up college athletics. I do know that our priorities have been turned on their heads when it comes to college sports. Should the players seem some financial benefit from their hard work and sacrifice? Would it kill the sport to pay players a small stipend each month during the season? The coaches are certainly getting paid - but no one in their right mind wants to pay an arm and a leg to sit in Memorial Stadium and watch the coaches suit up to play.

If players were to be paid a stipend it would have to be the same for every player on the team. And it would have to be the same for every school. For those schools whose athletic programs bring in big profits (The University of Texas and Ohio State University, for instance), there shouldn't be a problem treating football and basketball like work-study programs. For the majority of the schools competing on the Division I level who don't make a profit from their athletic programs, it's a different story.

Whatever your thoughts on these issues, after you read Game Over you'll never see sports in quite the same way again.

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