values

Sports: Who benefits?

Who benefits from sports? A lot folks, certainly. I’m sitting here watching a Milwaukee Bucks game as I write. I’m benefiting because I’m being entertained. The players are benefiting because they are being paid, and hopefully having fun. The coaches and team staff benefit because they get jobs, and the owner benefits because he (they are mostly men in pro sports) makes money. There are stadium staff from food service to custodial. Restaurant and bar owners in the area benefit from folks who gather to watch the games and buy food and drink. Fans may stay in hotels, so the hotel owners benefit too. The league and other retailers sell team merchandise. In short, there is a lot of economic benefit to go around.

What about amateur sports? Who benefits? If we are talking about NCAA sports, it’s very similar to the pros, except for the players aren’t being paid. But, they must love the game more, right? Otherwise, why play? Sure, there is the college education, but student-athlete is in many cases a misnomer. Especially for ‘big time’ college sports, the athletes are often playing as much for the chance to make money in the pros as they are to get an education.

What about folks who play in recreational leagues and pick up games? There, it seems that the economic benefits for others not involved in the play are much less direct. I’d guess they are still there as it’s not that uncommon to go from the game to dinner or a bar, and a few folks will probably stop and watch for a few minutes to see what’s going on in the park.

In recreational leagues the benefits accrue most completely to the participants themselves. What about as sports become more commodified? Do the athletes still benefit the most? It’s hard to argue that’s the case for ‘big time’ college sports. So many people are making so much money, and getting so much entertainment, while the student-athletes tend to be so focused on the sport that they often don’t have time to take full advantage of the academic scholarship, and the NCAA produces some funky numbers to inflate ‘graduation rates.’ Do the athletes get what they deserve given the work they do to produce the product? This Forbes article compares the market value of college athletes to professional athletes, and it doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’m obviously asking more questions than I’m answering, but these are questions worth considering. Who gets the most from sports? Players, those who extract value from the game but don’t play it, fans? Who should get the most?

As I wrote the Bucks lost, so it wasn’t quite as fun as it could have been, and those guys still get paid!

Advertisements

Coexist with the Darwin Fish

We drove to Pittsburgh last Saturday. As I drove I wondered about a few things. For example, why is I-90 around Buffalo so bumpy? It’s not even bumpy so much as it’s wavy. You feel like you’re on a boat. Also, why do people from Ontario drive so fast? I only see those plates when they pass me on the left. Finally, what is the deal with bumper stickers? This last question came to me when Joy said she’d like one of those Coexist stickers for her car, or maybe the Darwin fish. (more…)

Certainty means more Mergers, Mergers mean more Uncertainty, Uncertainty means more Crime?

This morning in a criminology seminar we discussed a section of Crime and the American Dream by Richard Rosenfeld and Steven F. Messner (the section in this book). Their “thesis is that the anomic tendencies inherent in the American Dream both produce and are reproduced by an institutional balance of power dominated by the economy” (Rosenfeld and Messner 2011: 179). The dominance of the economy, they argue, weakens other institutions like the family, the government, and education, and the American Dream encourages unrestrained individualism and innovation. The cultural and institutional preferences given to individual economic success, along with the breakdown of other institutions which might foster community oriented values leads to a loss of social control and high levels of criminal behavior.

After class I opened up nytimes.com and this was the lead story: “Confidence on Upswing, Mergers Make Comeback.

(more…)

Teaching Marx: The Creative Class and the Ikea Effect

This morning we discussed a selection of the Manifesto of the Communist Party in Social Theory (the selection in Peter Kivisto’s Social Theory: Roots and Branches, Vol 4). We spend about a week reading and discussing Marx, and it’s never enough. In general, I think the students get the basic argument about the bourgeoisie and proletariat because they are likely exposed to this in other sociology classes. As important as that argument is, I’ve personally always been a lot more interested in what Marx has to say about alienated labor, how his work can lead into a discussion of consumption, and his general claims about the political implications of revolutions of the system of production.

I’m always looking for good ways to make Marx’s writing relatable to students. Many have had, or are working, jobs that are unsatisfying because they don’t allow them to be creative. These are jobs that are a means to an end, just like Marx writes about. I’ll ask them to think about the value of various commodities like iPhones. Who made that iPhone, what is its use, and why is it valuable? I’ll talk a little about advertisements that encourage us to want things we don’t even know exist. They get this point too, I think.

(more…)

Working on a Holiday: Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream?

Holidays might be used as an indicator of those ideals a country values above all others. For example, in the U.S. we have 10 federal holidays, including Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. Those holidays, as I understand them, are set apart from typical days to honor the foundational American value of freedom, and those who established and defend that freedom. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday, as well as Inauguration Day. Martin Luther King Jr. certainly fought for freedom, and not just for African Americans, but for all Americans whose lives were burdened not only by racism, but also by poverty and voicelessness. MLK’s vision of America requires not only racial equality, but also economic fairness. Inauguration Day is a day we celebrate the functioning of our political system. It’s a day that we observe a peaceful transition of power, the voice of the voters, and perhaps think about unity with those whom we disagree with politically. It makes good sense to me that these should be federal holidays. We should set this day aside and honor these values. It’s not an ordinary day.

Regardless, many people I know are at work. In fact, when I look at that list of federal holidays, I can’t help but notice that a lot of people have to work many or most of those days. But, it’s not all of us who have to work most of those days. In fact, it’s the working poor who have to work most, really all, of those days. The waitresses serving breakfast to the hung-over on New Year’s Day, those working the Memorial Day sales at the mall (all those days have sales by now, right?), or the hotel staff cleaning your sheets and towels when you’re off to visit family on Thanksgiving. As I write this on MLK Day, neighbors on my block are rushing to get their trash to the curb for pick-up I’m sure they expected would be delayed, but isn’t. Some won’t get the trash out because they are at work. In fact, many people who are solidly in the middle class work many of those days, and certainly on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Teachers are teaching, lawyers are lawyering, and the pharmacist was there to fill my prescription this morning. It’s a holiday, we all know it, but almost everybody is working. You can’t help but wonder what values our actions represent.

When MLK Day was proposed as a federal holiday, shortly after his assassination, it was not widely supported. Senator Jesse Helms famously argued that he wasn’t worthy of such an honor, and was in fact a dangerous, communist radical. It took until 1983, 15 years after his death, for the day to become a national holiday. It wasn’t until 1986 that the holiday was first observed, and not until 2000 that it was officially observed in all 50 states. When President Reagan reluctantly signed the bill in 1983, he did so despite his own concerns about what it would cost in economic productivity (I take him at his word). But, like so many of the holidays, almost everybody is working today. So, maybe it’s not costing that much? If one celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of American society free of racism and poverty, and guided by a sense of economic justice, then one must do so with a keen awareness that there is much work to be done. The poor celebrate the day at their less-than living-wage jobs, and most of the middle class is at work producing for the corporate powers that be. For many, it’s only a day off of work if they spend one of their limited personal or vacation days. Our calandars and speeches give honor to the dreams of MLK, but our actions seem to speak to a different set of economic values.

***

Yes, I’ve got the day off. Le Moyne’s spring semester starts tomorrow. A few years ago I taught on Veterans Day, November 11th. The class before, a student and veteran of the war in Iraq approached me in shock that classes would be held on Veteran’s Day. I told him he was welcome to honor the day and miss lecture, but that we would be in class according to college policy.

Shame in Daily Life: Saving face at the Gym

Last week I played dodge ball on a faculty team as part of a fundraiser. I played one game, and I was sweaty and winded. I knew it was time to stop fooling myself about walks around my neighborhood and Disc Golf being reasonable replacements for regular trips to the gym.

I hadn’t been to my gym since about March. Besides the obvious reasons to dread returning after such a long time away, I had another thought going through my head: when I check in, the people at the front desk will recognize that I hadn’t been there in forever, and they will judge me. I convinced myself that this was ridiculous. Why would they recognize me? It’s a busy gym. Off I went. (more…)