Public workers deserve public funds over pro sports

By: Douglas Smith - Contributing columnist

Barely remembered, now, is the Major League Baseball strike of 1972. The work stoppage erased nearly the first two weeks of MLB’s regular season before a resolution. Younger fans recall 1994’s devastating strike that robbed us of a World Series.

As a young teen, and relatively new fan of professional sports, I felt betrayed by those sports heroes. How could they do that to us? It was a good lesson at an impressionable age, though. For all of our thrill and admiration of their on-field exploits, pro sports, first of all, is a business.

Strikes and lockouts appear as so much squabbling among the well-to-do. Yes, an ancient mentality among owners had to change, particularly in baseball, where players were considered as so much “chattel;” and, true enough, owners take a huge financial risk on players who may fall well short of expectations, or sustain season-ending injuries.

Recently, Carolina Panthers fans are warily anticipating new ownership of their NFL team. A foremost concern is whether the team will remain in the Carolinas. The quick answer, I think, is yes, as long as the new owner believes it makes business sense. As with about every professional franchise, they will be as “loyal” to the fans as the money is good.

That includes public dollars which the Panthers — like most teams — expect for stadium improvements over time. A gleaming modern facility to most fans may be deemed unacceptable to ownership drooling for luxury boxes and retractable roofs. Teachers, police and firefighters scrambling for pay help seem to fade when team owners come calling.

Pro sports fans, however, would be wise to be as willing to wave goodbye as their teams prove ready to desert them for the highest bidder elsewhere. Economists’ studies, over the years, question their true financial value to communities relative to their demands from municipal coffers.

Fans should never forget that in the business of professional sports, their wallets are ever vulnerable to the search for innovative revenue streams. As a May 14 Supreme Court decision opens the door to nationwide legalized sports gambling, owners and players are broaching “integrity” fees, and fees on their “intellectual” property.

It’s fun to cheer on your favorite pro athletes and, occasionally, enjoy their arenas; but fans should maintain some circumspection as pros reach into their pockets. Save your hearts and emotions for our Raiders and other local youth activities.

Douglas Smith is a Rockingham resident and frequent writer of letters to the editor.

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Douglas Smith

Contributing columnist