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IRON SHARPENS IRON DEP’T: NICE POST FROM DAVID PERRY that DESERVES an ANSWER!

As the Slovenes await their potential Miracle on Ice tomorrow at 730 AM our time, there is a nice post from David Perry that deserves to be answered.

I believe as the Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron…”

Why is it that people who otherwise are free-market and libertarian (correctly, I should add) and generally believe in the right of everyone to work hard in their field and reap the rewards suddenly become doctrinaire Marxists when it comes to sports? “Amateurism” was an invention of the late-19th century aristocracy and wealthy to keep poor people out of sports. It did not exist in the ancient Greek games; people who won events at those would be kept quite comfortable financially by their hometown for the rest of their lives.

First, thanks for coming by.  I am not a Marxist and I think Perry knows that.  I do say that he is right about the ancient Olympics.  But getting paid after the Games used to be what the men’s basketball and hockey players did AFTER the Olympics.  That is not inconsistent with amateur sports.

Let’s say that I agree with much of the thesis of this post:  The status of amateur/professional athletes in the Olympics is hopelessly blurred.

Two events shaped how we felt about the Games:  The stripping of the medals won by Jim Thorpe in 1912 for playing a few pick up baseball games for money and the Cold War manipulation of the Games with quasi-pro athletes aided and abetted by doping schemes and subsidization by governments.  The 1972 basketball game was the last straw.

But I hope we can agree:  There is a big difference between say (since Perry brought it up) World Cup skiing and men’s basketball.  Now tennis and soon golf will be dominated by pro athletes who make millions ALREADY (Nothing wrong with that I am not a Trotskyist!) just like basketball and hockey.

Let’s correct some misconceptions put forth in this and other posts:

a.) Brazil does badly in hockey for exactly the same reasons that lead to a lack of hockey talent in Alabama compared to Minnesota: it’s not cold, and no one cares about the sport. In soccer and basketball–sports in which there is far more world interest and the level of competition is much higher–Brazil does pretty well for itself, with exactly the same set of resources.

Brazil cannot hope to realistically have a stable of NHL players and thus compete with the NHL-laden all stars from US, Canada, Sweden and probably Russia.  This is the real problem with the Olympics.  They are not a World Cup toy for pro athletes.  Let’s have for hockey and basketball the same thing they have for baseball and soccer – a world championship.

These use of pro athletes cause unintended consequences:  It skews the competition and favors the major powers – thus I have used the term “sports imperialism” in hopes that others will debate me and it will bring forth the moral and ethical issues in pro athletes in the Olympic Games.  It is admittedly a bit over the top.  But it is akin to William Lloyd Garrison burning the Constitution in 1854 because it condoned slavery (it did at that time; thank God it does not anymore!).

b.) The US was actually one of the few countries that voted *against* letting NBA players into the Olympics–if you don’t believe me, Google it. The rest of the world wanted it because 1.) they wanted to be able to use their NBA players, and 2.) they wanted to play against the best.

Perry is right.  The question is not what was our position in 1994 but what should be our position be in 2014!  We now can do the right thing and have empirical evidence to support it (The US Nigeria mismatch in 2012 for example!)

c.) Tina Maze, who is glorified in another post on here, is quite wealthy both from having won lots of races on the pro circuit and from the various endorsements, singing opportunities, etc, that her skiing fame has brought her. She is quite emphatically a part of the “imperialistic” sports system. Let me be so bold to say, however, that that actually probably helps her relative to skiiers from bigger countries–rather than having to depend on the funds that small Slovenia could afford to support her training, she can exploit the riches of the entire skiing world–funded mostly by powers like the US, Germany, Switzerland, etc.

Now I did look up the World Cup prize money website.  Maze earned just over 700,000 Swiss francs (701, 797) on the slopes for the entire year of 2013.  The first place in an event wins 10,000 Swiss francs and 30th place is only 100 SF:

According to the rules of the International Ski Federation FIS the organizer has to provide a prize money of at least CHF 71 800,-.

 

This CHF 71 800,- are divided between the Top 30 as follows:

Every athlete is awarded CHF 100,- for each World Cup point achieved.

1. Place 100 Points = CHF 10 000,-

11. Place 24 Points = CHF 2 400,-

2. Place 80 Points = CHF 8 000,-

12. Place 22 Points = CHF 2 200,-

3. Place 60 Points = CHF 6 000,-

13. Place 20 Points = CHF 2 000,-

4. Place 50 Points = CHF 5 000,-

14. Place 18 Points = CHF 1 800,-

5. Place 45 Points = CHF 4 500,-

15. Place 16 Points = CHF 1 600,-

6. Place 40 Points = CHF 4 000,-

16. Place 15 Points = CHF 1 500,-

7. Place 36 Points = CHF 3 600,-

17. Place 14 Points = CHF 1 400,-

8. Place 33 Points = CHF 3 300,-

.

9. Place 29 Points = CHF 2 900,-

.

10. Place 26 Points = CHF 2 600,-

30. Place 1 Point: CHF 100,-

According to Bloomberg, Maze earned about $786,327.  10,000 SF is 11,204.48 dollars and 100 SF is 112.04 dollars.

Now, Maze may have earned (she was the women’s champion in 2013) money in commercials and advertising – let’s see – super attractive young woman wins the World Cup in skiing?  If I’m selling, say skis for example, I’d like to have Maze in a commercial.  (I’d like to have Maze in an ad for this blog!)   But she did not earn millions in the way Tiger Woods (or LeBron James) did.

I do not oppose pros in the Olympics because they make beaucoup bucks but that it hurts the Games as accessible to all athletes in all nations.  I also oppose the arrogance that some in USA (and some of the coverage implies) have about their wins.  I want to remind people here that we ought to root hard for our nation but try to realize many nations do not ever win a medal or win very rarely.  The nation I came from on a missions trip a few weeks ago, Nicaragua, has never won a Olympic medal of any kind.  Botswana won its first medal in 2012 (although it was not the favorite athlete but another one that won a surprise silver medal) and so did several other nations:  Grenada, Cyprus…

d.) Almost all of the gold medals in hockey before NHL players came to the Olympics were won by three countries–the US, Canada, and the Soviets. Not exactly a bunch of underdogs, huh?

I agree.  But the answer is not shutting more nations out in a manner that they cannot compete with:  Hordes of pro athletes.

e.) Why precisely do you lose the right to “dream” about participating in certain events in your field just because you make a lot of money? If Brad Pitt or Natalie Portman decide to donate their time to a prestigious theater production, why should they be denied just because they’ve made a snotload of money in movies? Not to mention, of course, that the great amateurs of today become the great professionals of tomorrow, which means that limiting the Olympics to amateurs wouldn’t change the identities of the competitors that much. For instance, much of the 1980 Miracle team went on to have long and productive NHL careers (it turns out that it wasn’t quite as big of an upset as we thought.)

Rich people dream but poor nations without hordes of pro athletes cannot.  Is that right or moral?

I do not call for some sort of “affirmative action” for smaller nations but I do say the playing field ought not be pelted with unnecessary institutional obstacles that they cannot overcome.  The fact that most of the Miracle on Ice players did play in the NHL and have decent careers afterwards does not prove the present system is moral.  In fact, the Miracle of Ice players would have to be NHL players to even play in the Olympics today!

But I’ll tell you what; I’ll support the idea of an amateur Olympics–as long as EVERYONE involved goes amateur. When the journalists and TV broadcasters serve without pay, when the big corporations donate millions of dollars without receiving any advertising or logos on the uniform in return, and when the people running the IOC stay in the athletes’ village instead of in five-star hotels–then I’ll be favor of an amateur Olympics. I’m not holding my breath. :-)

I agree; and the William Lloyd Garrison in me calls for exactly that.  But I want to be realistic.  I’d live with a pro and amateur division in hockey, basketball, tennis etc.  I can’t stop the subsidizing of sports in other nations.  But I think the overpaid pro athletes in basketball, tennis and hockey ought not be rewarded with yet another medal that would be the crowning achievement of a star college or amateur player before they themselves perhaps turn pro, as the NCAA likes to say (That’s another issue!) in something other than sports.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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