April 29, 2003

A Media Circus Ruins Pro Sports

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The baseball season is not yet a month old, but the New York Yankees are already 20-5. Not that this should be a shock. It is quickly becoming apparent that no matter what monetary restrictions major league baseball attempts to impose in the interest of a level playing field, it will ultimately mean nothing.

The Yankees will scream, complain, lay off low-level employees, eliminate dental plans, and still go out and overpay for the two best foreign free agents on the market. It’s the nature of their system.

And it’s easy for the Yankees fan to insist that high payroll is a direct result of a smarter front office more concerned about winning than the 29 other teams. But it’s also easy to make up for the free agent who turns out to be a bust when money is no object. It is very easy to spend more money than other teams when the Yankees’ revenue dwarfs that of everyone else.

The Yankees are just an example of a continuing trend in sports. With their free spending ways, the Yankees are raising the bar for every team in baseball. As each team increases payroll, the amount of money it asks for television rights fees, in-stadium advertising, game tickets, and even parking and concessions also increases. It is getting to the point at which it is prohibitively expensive for an average family to attend a major league baseball game.

Of course, this does not end with baseball.

This season, the NBA became the first of the four major leagues to televise its All-Star Game on cable rather than network TV. This is a byproduct of a new TV contract that for the first time makes the network subordinate to the cable operator rather than the other way around.

It likely won’t stop there either. As carrying professional sports becomes less and less of a money-making proposition for the major networks, fewer games will be available over the air, and cable rates will inevitably increase even more. And ESPN is already the most expensive non-premium cable network out there.

Yet, despite the rising costs that will deny many people access to enjoy professional sports, society still places a disproportionate amount of stock in our sports heroes.

Probably the most nauseating aspect of the Michael Jordan farewell tour (of which there were many) was his final game at the MCI Center, before which defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld presented him with an American flag that flew over the Pentagon on the first anniversary of Sept. 11. This, mind you, was while the United States was actively engaged in a war.

Michael Jordan. The most politically inactive sports hero ever. The man, who during his first game at the MCI Center last season, bowed his head and paid more attention to the back of his hand then President Bush, who appeared on the jumbotron to give an update on military operations in Afghanistan. The same man whose only public comments regarding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were to explain to a group of firefighters gathered to watch the Wizards scrimmage that he wasn’t playing because his foot hurt.

Obviously, sports have their place in society — in my opinion a prominent place. But what happens when we let it go too far? Why is it that the country was so transfixed by the O.J. Simpson murder trail in 1994? While, yes, it was a bizarre and interesting story, I can guarantee it wouldn’t have drawn a quarter of that attention if Simpson wasn’t a star running back in a previous life.

Or why did former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani repeatedly declare it was acceptable for city schoolchildren to skip school to attend the Yankees’ four different World Series parades?

Indeed, sports do have their place in society. But just how far is too far? And when will the inevitable conflict occur between the public’s obsession and the public’s inability to pay for its obsession?

This week, three seniors will appear in the Sun’s sports section for the final time. Amanda Angel, Alex Fineman, and Kristen Haunss have been invaluable members of this section for the past four years and the Sun has been a better place because of them. While a few words won’t do, I want to express my gratitude to all of them.

Amanda, I remember at elections last year, Shiva said that you would make the Sun the best sports section in the Ivy League. Well, there is no question in my mind that you have accomplished that. Thank you for all you’ve done for the Sun and for me. Your work will always be my motivation. I can’t wait to read your syndicated column.

Alex, your writing and editing skills are amazing. You’ve definitely raised the standards of the section and the Sun will be much better for it. And you may be able to light me up for fade away jumpers from all over the driveway, but I will kick your ass in fantasy baseball! Good luck with the future. You’ll be an excellent addition to any sports section.

Kristen, my favorite beat partner. How nice to finally have a winning team. I have enjoyed every soccer, basketball, and lacrosse game this year more because you were there. From being surrounded by Penn fans to traveling home to watch lacrosse, this year has been very rewarding. Schoellkopf won’t be the same without you next spring.

Thank you to John Nigro for making every trip down to The Sun a special treat. Your expertise and advice has been almost as valuable as your ability to keep things light. Good luck with whatever you do. The Sun won’t be the same with out you.

Finally, thanks to you, the readers. It’s been a privilege to welcome you into the “O-Zone” this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Have a great summer.

Owen Bochner is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. In The O-Zone has appeared every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Owen Bochner

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