Sports have always been a big part of my life. I'm not sure what I would do without sports. However, if things keep moving in a certain direction, I may have to find out what I will do without two of my favorite sports.
My love of sports runs deep, but, just like the Second Amendment, it's not absolute. I used to be a fairly big baseball fan; I'd watch it on TV, listen on the radio and I'd even go to a few games every year. But after the strike of 1994 wiped out the World Series and left Tony Gwynn batting a tantalizing .394, I was done. In the past quarter-century, I've been to exactly three games. I went to the opening game of the Diamondbacks franchise, thinking I might write about it. (I ended up not doing so.) I took my son to a game in L.A. so that he could sample a legendary Dodger Dog. And I went to a game in Phoenix because my daughter bought tickets and wanted to go.
And now, on the eve of the greatest three weeks of the entire sports year, I'm starting to get that nagging feeling that the rampant spreading of utter nonsense is making dangerous inroads into something that I treasure. And the people who are paid to report on it are instead the biggest cheerleaders for a really dumb idea that just won't go away.
I understand how things work. In the cacophony of sports talkers, one must be louder and/or harsher to set oneself apart, perchance to keep one's cushy job. (One time, back in the 1990s, a friend of mine switched from listening to Rush Limbaugh and went over to G. Gordon Liddy. He soon tired of Liddy because Liddy wasn't "strident enough." Yes, I have strange friends.)
This is a big time of year for sports talkers. My absolute favorite sports event of the year—the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament—starts today. (Like most sports fans, I don't count those play-in games that the NCAA held the past couple days as being the "first round" of the tournament.) Unfortunately, instead of the attention being focused on whether Virginia's stifling defense can lead the Cavaliers to a title or if another dark horse can make it to the Final Four, all the talk these days is on whether college athletes should be paid.
The stupidity is everywhere, and the shouting gets louder and louder. The NCAA makes billions of dollars every year! (Not true.) The athletes are being horribly mistreated! (Walk through Lowell-Stevens and then try to say that with a straight face.) It's akin to slavery. (Shame on you!)
The NCAA and its member schools do generate what most of us would consider to be a lot of money. But they also spend a lot of money on tuition waivers, books, room and board, travel and support staff. The talkers are well aware of the fact that most colleges, at best, aspire to break even on athletics and most fall short.
Now, if you want to have a discussion about the insanity of coaches' salaries, we'd probably be on the same side. If the NCAA mandated that all current coaches' salaries be cut by 40 percent, that'd be cool. You'd still have the hierarchical pecking order, with Mike Krzyzewski at the top and some poor schlub in Montana at the bottom, dreaming about making Krzyzewski-like money someday. But that's a separate argument.
What drives me nuts is when grown-ass men who get paid to make cogent arguments talk about football and men's basketball as though they are separate from the rest of the athletic department. I've never been a lawyer (nor have I ever wanted to be one), but I could watch half an episode of Matlock and walk into any courtroom in America and shoot down that argument based on Title IX. You see, thanks to Title IX, in the eyes of the Lord and the Law, the ninth-best player on the women's tennis team is equal to the star quarterback on the football team in all things pertaining to the school.
It wasn't always that way, but since the 1970s, it has been, and it should remain so. If you're in education, you have to know (and should also believe) that boys and girls must be treated equally, as should men and women. It bothers me greatly that people who should be speaking out on behalf of all college athletes are instead pitting one against the other based solely on money.
The other day, I heard Jalen Rose waxing ineloquent on the subject. He injected race into the discussion and used terms like "plantation" and "involuntary servitude." Now, I'm not a spokesman for the Republican Party, so I'm free to state that racism still exists in America. But it's not everywhere and in all cases. Throwing it in where it's not relevant dilutes its effectiveness in an argument where it really does matter.
As for involuntary servitude, perhaps Mr. Rose could find somebody in this year's NCAAs—or, for that matter, one person ever, anywhere—who is now, or ever was, forced to play basketball against his will. Even for somebody who went to Michigan, that's inane. You can't say stupid stuff and not expect to be called stupid.