Saturday, March 21, 2015

Endangered species: middle and lower classes, as a slime of cash flows to cover our collective swamp

A recent defection from the ranks of the NFL after only one year in uniform, by a college graduate in History, because at twenty-four he was afraid that his life would be seriously impaired through concussions if he stayed in the game, Chris Borland has shone the spotlight on both concussions and the future of high profile professional sports.
"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," said Borland, who met with prominent concussion researchers before making his decision. "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk." 
Borland, 24, said he has been diagnosed with two concussions in his life -- once while playing soccer in eighth grade and again while playing football during sophomore year of high school. He said he believed he might have suffered a third concussion during training camp, but played through it because of his concern about making the team as a third-round pick out of Wisconsin. (By Chris Hanzus, in Around the NFP, March 16, 2015)
The millions that Borland could and likely would have earned as a star linebacker was not worth the risk he believed he was taking with his health, and potentially his life by continuing to play this highly impact sport.
Just today, I listened to a sports reporter on the Melissa Harris Perry Show on MSNBC, Dave Zirin, Sports Editor for The Nation. His primary topic was advocating for a sharing among the players of the massive amounts of cash that accrue to U.S. universities from the March Madness Basketball Tournament. Zirin even called the hoarding of that cash by the universities, their ferreting it offshore in tax haven accounts and paying their coaches millions as generating another form of slavery, especially given that most of the NCAA basketball players are black. Zirin cited the retirement of Chris Borland from the NFL as an early warning sign of what might be coming in the not-to-distant future...that the better educated NFL players would likely withdraw their services, leaving lower and middle class athletes, once again primarily black, playing football in front of primarily rich white patrons.
Talking to a cab driver in New York city only two weeks ago, we heard him tell us that he clearly can not afford to attend a game of either the New York Knicks basketball team nor the New York Rangers hockey team, both sport events engaging highly paid athletes to entertain the most wealthy among us. The rest of us are relegated to the TV sets in our recreation rooms or our favourite pubs on game night.
Back to Zirin's advocacy for college basketball and football players sharing in the revenues generated by their games, most of them receiving, for what they are worth, "free education" as a token payment for their continued participation in college athletics. However, he noted, that with extensive practice times and extended travel, the educational value of their degree is considerably diluted.
To be clear, we do not share Zirin's passion for paying college athletes to play the sports they love and are highly adept and skilled to play. However, the rivers of cash that are flowing from sponsors into both the university and college athletic programs and later into the professional leagues has so rusted the reputation of what was once a low-budget affair, especially on campuses across America.
From NCAA championship, up from single digits for the last several decades. Also we have witnessed the development of a "basketball academy" in Orangeville Ontario, developed to attract highly talented basketball players from high schools across the province of Ontario.
Elitism, in athletics clearly is like a magnet to sports equipment manufacturers, sports agents, beverage companies, snack companies and sports retailers. Endorsements bring the big contracts to the top performers in the professional leagues. Paying the college athletes, while not yet completely established may put the brakes on a few who would otherwise turn professional after only a single year of college competition, but would certainly transform the learner-institution relationship to that of employer-employee.
Protection of "student status" as opposed to "employee" or even "consumer" as has been witnessed in most other facets of contemporary American/Canadian life, is an issue that few who advocate for paid college athletes consider carefully. A student/learner is, by definition, an apprentice, and if the academic side of his/her life is to be the top priority for both the university and the student, that apprenticeship is in his chosen field of study. S/He is not apprentice to LeBron James, nor to Payton Manning (NFL quarterback of Denver Broncos); the athletic portion of his/her development has to remain secondary to his/her academic/professional curriculum.
Of course, mine is a purist, 'old school' argument in favour of maintaining academics, and not merely job training as a pillar of a society in which we are able and willing to retain and to pass on the discipline of rigorous discernment between such categories as student and employee, or learner and consumer.
It is the morphing of the universities themselves into cash cows, sycophants to the corporations, to the sports equipment companies, to the pharmaceutical companies, to the plethora of "cash-cows" whose "beneficence" is really blatant advertising, recruiting, tax-dodging and academic control, not only of the personnel whose lecturing occurs under the banners of their name plates, but also of the nature of the research that can and is conducted with the grants from those companies.
Ford Motor Company, for example, does not want an engineering school to study the defects in their cars, in laboratories funded by the Ford Foundation. Glaxo-Smith-Kline does not want its university grants going to discover the risks and dangers inherent in its high-profile drugs that are underwriting company profits, dividends and pension plans.
It is not only the short-term "costs" of paying college athletes, but also the long-term costs of segregating the wealthy spectators from those in the middle and lower classes that endangers both the athletes and the sports in which they are engaged, not to mention the kind of society which harbours and fosters a "we-them" division between the have's and the have-not's.
Gladiators (from the lower and middle classes) entertaining the wealthy spectators, while it may feed the narcissism of those wealthy enough to take advantage of that opportunity, is not a society in which high-calibre athletics is available to wide range of society demographics.
Two-tiered health care, two-tiered sports entertainment, two-tiered education, and two-tiered legal systems are not the stuff on which the founding patrons of societies on both sides of the 49th parallel  based their visions for their respective countries.
If they had wanted oligarchies, they would have so structured their original documents and traditions. However, given that money flows increasingly to the top, (as does the slime in stagnant ponds), we are in danger of depriving our collective swamp of the oxygen needed to breath to sustain life, in all of its forms, including human forms.
And, as the slime grows to cover the whole surface of our "swamp" more and more species will be denied the basic necessities of life while those on top of the slime will grow increasingly desensitized even to our existence, never mind our basic needs.

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