Too big for its own good
If you stayed up past your bedtime to watch the first game of the Bruins-Canadiens playoff series on Thursday night I commend you.
Big time sports, professional and major college, is a big business, full of exorbitant wealth and payoffs that seem almost obscene in relation to today’s economic circumstances.
The National Hockey League is a part of that system, too, but what you saw on Thursday night is why we watch the games in the first place. The competition, the rivalry, two teams going at each other, playing half the night before they finally settle things.
Unfortunately, the business of sports isn’t always like that. We saw the flip side of the of the sports business last week in an extreme way with Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, and to a lesser extent with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
In my mind, National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver did the right thing when he banned Sterling from the league for life for making racially-charged comments to his girlfriend. This one really was a no-brainer. Comments like Sterling’s are stupid and insensitive, and his presence shouldn’t be tolerated in any place of employment, particularly the NBA, which markets itself now as a global league.
The problem is Sterling is an owner, not a player or front office employee, so he won’t really go away unless a majority of the NBA’s 29 other owners vote to make him sell the Clippers. I don’t doubt the votes to make Sterling sell the team are there. But there are already rumors out there that Sterling’s estranged wife may make a bid for the team in order to keep the Clippers in the family.
If you really wanted to hurt Sterling, I would suggest the owners vote to strip him of the franchise, then have the NBA run it until a new ownership group can be found. Letting Sterling cash out for being a racist does nothing. If his estranged wife plans to make a bid for the team, how is banning Sterling for life from the league really going to hurt him?
The NBA is the hot league right now. Its franchises are cash cows. The Clippers are valued at $575 million, 13th among the NBA’s 30 teams, according to Forbes Magazine. The team brings in $128 million in revenue, and has an operating profit of $15 million. After years of mediocrity, the Clippers actually have a shot at winning the NBA championship this year. Just imagine what a team with those kinds of numbers and that sort of ability is worth on the open market. Letting Sterling walk away with a financial consolation prize for what he did makes no sense to me, but that’s the business of sports.
Winston’s case is another matter. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner was recently arrested for shoplifting crab legs from a market in Tallahassee, Fla., and was issued a citation, which means he won’t face criminal charges. He will have to perform community service.
This would be all well and good except for Winston’s previous run-ins with the law. As everyone who follows college football knows, the Florida State quarterback was investigated for an alleged rape last fall, but the Florida State Attorney’s office declined to file charges due to a lack of evidence. Winston has also been questioned about his involvement in a long running BB gun battle, according to the Associated Press, and there are reports that Burger King reported Winston stealing soda in a ketchup cup.
No charges have ever been filed against Winston in any of these incidents, although Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin did suspend Winston from the team until he completes his community service commitment. Think Winston, a pitcher on the baseball team, got the message? Judging from his track record, I doubt it.
The point I’m trying to make here is that college football is a big business, too. The Heisman Trophy used to stand for something more than solely athletic ability -- I thought character was also a consideration -- but with the huge amount of money the sport generates nowadays, nobody seems to care.
All that system is doing is enabling Winston because he makes a lot of money for Florida State. He’s learning nothing. Unless Winston cleans up his act, you can just imagine what he’s going to be like as a pro. Off the field, I mean.
My suggestion would be to take the Heisman away from Winston based on his conduct issues, but you can bet that’s never going to happen. It’s the business of sports.
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Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of the Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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