By Bob Gaydos
Having spent most of five decades tracking, reporting and commenting on the news of the day, I have developed a routine, a defense mechanism actually, for dealing with those days when the news is just too damn depressing. I turn to the sports page.
Of course, in the past couple of decades, sports news has been far from the guaranteed escape from the real world it once was. Some of that is probably due to my evolution as a human being (leaving behind childish things, etc.), but most of it I am sure has to do with the devolution of sports from fun and games to law and order. Hue and cry. Sturm und drang. Sue or be sued. Pick your couplet.
Monday (Nov. 14) was one of those days. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for some reason decided to go Big Brother on the Occupy Wall Street protestors, sending in hundreds of police before dawn to break up the Zuccotti Park encampment while preventing legitimate news media from covering the action and even arresting several reporters. Instead of trying to talk to protestors and resolve complaints about the occupation, the mayor and police used the oldest and lamest of excuses for their illegal actions against the press -- it was for their safety. Right. Just like tossing the protestors belongings into dumpsters was for their health and well-being.
What with police on the West Coast dealing with Occupy movements by beating Iraq War veterans and college students and using tear gas as if they had a quota to meet, I needed a break.
I turned to sports.
Thanks for nothing, NBA players union.
On that very Monday that thousands of Americans across the country, ranging from college students to retirees, union and non-union, encompassing all census classifications -- the truly average Americans -- were being manhandled for protesting against the profound economic inequities that have turned so many of their dreams into nightmares and bullied a once model political system into becoming an obedient servant of wealthy masters, the very talented, privileged and self-absorbed players of the National Basketball Association rejected an offer from team owners to share half the income derived from playing basketball.
That’s a long sentence; let it sink in.
Not only did the players reject the latest offer from the owners, but they also decided to decertify their union and sue the league under anti-trust laws. We can start with how dumb this is by noting that, with no union, the owners say there are no contracts and, thus, no pay checks. For most Americans, this is considered a powerful incentive to work out a deal, but apparently not for pro basketball players.
That may have to do with the fact that the average salary of an NBA player is about $5.5 million a year. That’s an average, which means even the guy who only gets to play when the game is out of hand, is a borderline millionaire.
What the players did not consider, however, was the impact of their decision on all the other people -- the 99% that the Occupiers are demonstrating for -- who will also lose their jobs if there is no NBA season. No games means no need for concessions, no maintenance crew, no security, no ticket sellers, no locker room employees, no trainers, maybe even no office personnel for teams with smaller bankrolls. And of course, no games.
The irony of their action, taking place in Manhattan not far from the OWS crackdown, was lost on these young millionaires, locked in a struggle with billionaires over how to divvy up the loot from their overpriced tickets. I will go out on a limb here and state that probably not one of the NBA players -- multi-millionaires to borderline millionaires -- was part of that 1% of wealthiest Americans before signing a contract to play professional basketball. I don’t ever remember reading a story about some really rich kid deciding to play pro ball. If someone else has, please let me know. No, they were, I feel secure in saying, rock solid members of the 99%. And not long ago, either.
Instead of arguing with the team owners -- who will survive a lost season but who do after all have a right to try to control their product and get a fair return on their considerable investments -- the NBA players could have taken a cue from other labor unions and marched with the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Imagine Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James walking with the OWS throng and speaking out for the need to regulate the way large financial institutions deal with other people’s money. Calling for a lessening of the power rich corporations have over politicians. Demanding that those who caused the worldwide economic crisis be prevented from continuing to profit on it while others pay the price in lost jobs and homes.
“Hello 99 per centers! We stand with you! We have been fortunate to become successful and be rewarded financially for God-given talents, but we came from you and we understand your frustration and anger with the inequities in our society. It is time for our elected leaders to work for the benefit of the 99%, as well as for the 1% who finance their campaigns. Indeed, it is time for all of us to set aside selfish demands and begin to work for the common good. We are going back to playing basketball, which is what we do, so that others can go back to doing what they do. And we told the team owners we would take a smaller percentage of the profits if they reduced the price of tickets. Whaddya say, owners?”
Can you imagine the response? The players would be real heroes. Unfortunately, for the players at least, that didn’t happen. They’re still looking for more money and are not playing basketball. Fortunately, for the rest of us in the 99%, the Occupiers understand the situation and are committed to fighting for a larger goal -- a more equitable society for everyone, whether they can dunk a basketball or not.