The Flock And The Truth

October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve had it with the shock and outrage. Anyone and I mean anyone who’s worked a locker room or a sideline or an interview with an athlete knows that the stain of Mammon covers all of collegiate sports. I know a former D-I lacrosse player who can fill an afternoon with stories of free housing or cheap prices for new cars or readily accessible drugs. When I was in Ann Arbor I saw a senior wide receiver driving around in a Bentley. These aren’t surprising to anyone who’s ever had the sense to pay attention to the parts of sports that aren’t on a TV or on a field, yet now I’m seeing and hearing pundits across the U.S. feigning surprise and disappointment at the allegations of this Josh Luchs article in Sports Illustrated. Don’t lie to yourself: each and every person in Bristol knows about runners and paid college athletes and can probably give you 10-20 stories each. Every columnist who’s covered a college football team has interacted with some impropriety.

As to why they are feigning such hollow and nannyish behavior, the explanation is simple: they, or more likely their superiors, have determined where their dollar lies: in the fat, soft hands of Daft Coaches From The Sofa and Seers of Sportsradio Callers. The men and women who, apart from their shallow and soon-to-be-outsourced retail jobs, have nothing more exciting to look forward to in their lives than shoving their wrongly-derived opinions down the throat of a stranger who didn’t ask for it. Whether it be at a barbecue, the local dive, or into the phone and over the local airwaves, these people continue to incorrectly remember the past and spew idiocies about the present. They also apparently have the absorbative powers to soak the complete truth from an event in only 19 minutes of SportsCenter while waiting for JiffyLube to finish their oil change. These are the people who want the world they way they think it is, not the way it really is. It is to these people that ESPN, Fox Sports, and every radio station in this country are enslaved, are pitching to advertisers as their flock. They need to cultivate these viewers, keep them sated.

And this flock needs their gladiators clean cut, respectful, and right out of the J. Edgar Hoover-era, dammit. What happened to the Golden Boys of football, they ask, ignoring the original Golden Boy’s profligate gambling. They don’t make ‘em like Joe Montana, callers cry, glossing over the fact every Favorite Athlete of the post-Jordan era is as carefully planned and inhuman as Guy Fieri or a BP ad and therefore we all know jack-shit about Joe Montana. That at every time in history one would discover athletes soaked in debauchery and crime and money is lost on these sniveling bystanders who leap to moralizing like dogs to vomit. Rather than admit to their own impotence and deformities these men and women would rather stay blissfully in the Land Of If I Were Him. If I Were Him I’d just be happy to get an education. If I Were Him I’d have the moral strength to reject gifts of thousands of dollars. If I Were Him I’d have played for love. If I Were Him I’d realize I was in the toy department of life.

What’s lost on the flock is that there’s big money in toys. Millions of dollars flow into the pockets of colleges and athletic departments every month because of these toys. And these toys aren’t inanimate pawns but human beings with their own interests, desires, and needs. And the chasm between what these people earn for the schools and what they receive (including the stuff under the table) goes into the realm of usury.

Some of these players, due to their exhausting physical schedule, burn through their monthly food stipend in less than 3 weeks and have to spend the last week scrimping by or going hungry. Other athletes come from streets and homes where hunger was a constant. And while it’s okay for a school to crack down on the street vendor’s $1,000-a-year t-shirt operation so as to protect the school’s $100,000,000-a-year income stream, for an athlete who generates that same $100,000,000 to accept $2,500 to help keep a roof over his mother’s head or god forbid have a little fun is an outrage to the flock.

I love my Michigan Wolverines, and I love my university. But if you think you can convince me that Chris Webber gettin’ dollar hurt my education, or if the university deciding to pay 85 players $100,000 a year affects the education of the other 39,000 students, move along. Denard Robinson has already generated millions of dollars this year and I think it’s dirty and vile not to pay him.

And so the news cycle will go: Herbstreit will drool his sports-department-friendly patter, Fowler will furrow his brow distorting his magnificent hairline, Corso will continue to ride his dementia and warm up his death rattle, and Desmond will continue to have tie knots wider than his mouth. Stewart Mandel will either say something everyone knew or something no one cares about, depending on how Northwestern plays on Saturday. Bob Ley will waste a Wednesday afternoon on the topic, on my TV in a box between two other boxes filled with fat people’s faces. A few columnists will make some cries of the need to find the “true villains” in this story, and local radio will either decry their own school’s missteps or crow about their rivals corruption. Mel Kiper will slink off to his cave until February and hopes that no one will remember this even happening. And then basketball season will start and hey the Vikings are 1-4 and everyone will miss the point: today in college football is a Gilded Age, a time where extreme wealth was held by a small few and power ensured it stayed that way. The rebellions and reform that followed the Gilded Age might be next for the NCAA and they might be due. In fact, if someone’s gotta spare torch, count me in.

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