SPORTING: Labored Relations

The connection between labor unions and sports fans hasn't always been this tortured. Once upon a time, labor unions enabled working people to make decent living wages. Happily, these wages made possible by unions enabled workers to attend sporting events.Today, the connection isn't so happy. About 30 years ago, a few smart athletes in every league figured out they needed to unionize. On first glance, one could recognize a certain kinship between the athletes and their union brethren, for the average athlete's career is very short, benefits were minimal and team owners could freeze players out of livelihood if they didn't accept take-it-or-leave-it contracts.Overcoming considerable opposition from within their ranks, a few pioneering players managed to certify their unions. Naturally, as the prerogative to strike is a labor union's greatest negotiating leverage, job actions ensued. At first, labor unions were at least partially sympathetic to striking players, advocating a staunch pro-union stance.Others recognized that players are a lot more interested in furthering their own interests than in advancing the interests of labor. In other words, the athletes are opportunists. Soon enough, the inherent absurdity of players' unions came to surface.Especially irritating is the source of the players' leverage. Big-time spectator sports lives off the alienation of the worker, the pressure and indignation he suffers in his day-to-day life. Spectator sports is a pain killer. By withholding their services to secure wages that ordinary people could never hope to attain, players unions torture the very people who should seriously be served by the labor movement.The success of players unions, along with the concurrent decline of labor unions, creates abyssmal gaps between athletes and their fans. Indeed, players unions push salaries and benefits way past any decent, reasonable standard. As these compensation packages consitute the majority of pro sports expenditures, they have raised the price of tickets past the means of ordinary folks.One doesn't blame players for seeking as much money as possible, but neither does one cheer their every move. The effect on average, hard-working people has been terrible.Sports teams, desiring to be profitable and competitive, constantly seek new revenue streams so they can sign top players to upwardly-spiralling contracts. Teams cater to upper-crust customers, raise ticket prices, put games on pay TV and hold tax payers hostage over publicly-funded playing facilities.Of course, team ownership would eventually push in that direction even if the market for players weren't so high. The owners would gladly take all the bounty they can raise, pocketing the highest-possible margin. But the market in player salaries has been directly responsible for pushing developments so far so fast.No wonder sports fans are so little aggravated by now over the present labor strife in the National Basketball Association. Most of them can't afford NBA tickets anyway, so they aren't missing anything.Players unions work at crossed purposes with the labor movement, which, ideally, works toward the economic comfort of working people. And players unions, therefore, aren't any kind of flagship in labor's struggle against capital.In truth, players and owners alike are factions on the capital side, each taking its role in the anesthetization of a labor class that is to be distracted from political action. So, it is at once tiring and comical to continually hear the syllogisms of the labor movement applied to conflicts between millionaire athletes and the millionaires who own their teams.It's tiring because it misrepresents the interests of ordinary people who have historically relied on labor unions, whatever their faults, in pursuit of equitable compenstation. It is comical because it undercuts the usefulness of sports entertainment to the capital class, turning sports into an irritant to the people it is supposed to assuage.When one hears about the real struggles of union workers, the terrible sacrifices they must make from time to time, often for years at a time, just to maintain a reasonable living standard, the plight of NBA players is trivial and silly.Last season, the average NBA salary reached $2.3 million, with a mean salary of $1.4 million. Nobody sensibly respects their demand for 60 percent of the league's revenues. A 50 percent share, which NBA owners have placed on the table, would be reasonable.Beyond that, the players have earned no sympathy. Indeed, it doesn't even make a lot of sense to support the players' union because one is pro-labor. Players unions care not one bit about labor, work not one bit toward advancing the interests of labor and, rather than overturn the plight of the worker, simply take advantage of it.


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