Headlines over the last couple weeks revealed that Alonzo Mourning was traded to the Raptors but never reported. When the Raptors responded by waiving him, Mourning signed with his old team, the Heat. Then when the Celtics traded Gary Payton to the Hawks, Payton did the same thing, re-signing with the Celtics a couple days later. Somehow, Boston managed to trade Payton for himself.
Does anyone else see how selfish Payton and Mourning are being? When you decide to become a professional athlete, you get a lot of perks — you get great hours, you get great pay and you get to play a game for a living. But there are downsides: it’s physically grueling, your career is pretty short and, until you are a free agent, you don’t get to decide where you want to live. You don’t get to decide where you play. That’s the way it works, and you shouldn’t decide that you don’t want to play by the rules just because you have the money to do it.
I’m sure that Payton didn’t want to play for Atlanta. That’s understandable. The Hawks are 10-47, and they only won one game in February. But what about the half-dozen Hawks who make roughly one-twentieth of what Payton makes? Those guys, like every other athlete, have to stay in the situation they are in. And now they have to do it without their point guard or the forward they traded for him. Rich players, like Payton and Mourning, seem to be simply above the rules.
With that in mind and my new Kwame Brown jersey in tow, I went to Washington’s MCI Center last week with my girlfriend. We were there to watch a bunch of millionaires play a game of basketball, and we paid almost 100 bucks to do so — which by the way, is way more than any average American can be expected to pay. But when we were there, we ended up spending a good deal of time talking about the people who work every game at the arena.
We weren’t talking about Larry Hughes, who will make $5 million this season, or Gilbert Arenas, who is making even more. It wasn’t Abe Polin, the owner of the Wizards, or Susan O’Malley, the team’s president, who we were concerned about.
Looking around the MCI Center, I saw ushers at each section, people running the concession stands at each level and security guards at each entrance. Each of them makes less per game than the $100 we spent on the tickets.
From our seats in the upper level, we could see the hockey boards. That’s right, the Washington Capitals play hockey here too — or at least they used to. As we all know by now, there won’t be any hockey games this year. And that means 41 home games where the ushers, security guards, and concession stand attendants will be out 50 bucks.
But the NHL players and owners clearly don’t care about the people working in the arenas, or they would have come up with an agreement to keep the season going. The players who need the money are playing in Europe and in the AHL. And some of the owners have openly said that they will save money by not having a season. Neither the owners nor the players cared enough to get the season going, but they were the only ones negotiating and making all the decisions. In the meantime, the workers got screwed.
I can’t say I’m surprised. The American capitalistic system is one that rewards looking out for number one. Sports have always been, and should always be, indicative of the society in which they are played. And we live in a society that rewards the rich.
So I should have known. But sports have always seemed so pure to me — and that’s what I like about them. They are hard-nosed competitions with a winner and a loser, and they’re pretty straight forward.
But somebody has to look out for the little guys because, even in sports, it seems like those with less money don’t get a say. Maybe I’m missing something, but I feel like it’s not fair when Payton and Mourning can choose where they go simply because they have the money to do so while everyone else has to sit idly by and go where they’re told. Eli Manning can choose not to play for the San Diego Chargers just because his dad is Archie Manning and his brother, Peyton Manning, signed the NFL’s biggest contract just months before. Meanwhile, Byron Leftwich — who grew up in the ghetto of Washington — has to go wherever he’s drafted because he can’t afford to sit out the season. And at the same time, the low- and middle-class workers at the MCI Center don’t get a union lawyer arguing for them when their jobs are on the line.
It’s more than just a bunch of millionaires playing a game. Way more people than that are involved, and I wish Gary Payton would think more about that when he complains about having to play basketball in Atlanta instead of Boston. I wish Eli Manning would think about that a little when deciding he doesn’t want to live in San Diego. I wish the NHL owners and the players union would think more about that when they are deciding to cancel the season.
Even if the rest of society is that selfish, I wish sports weren’t.
Ian Herbert can be reached at email@example.com.