Professional sports: More than what meets the eye

On Monday, I attended a screening of Not Just a Game; People, Politics, and American Sports, a documentary based on Dave Zirin’s book A People’s History of Sports. The film asks a provocative question: Is there more to professional sports than athletic competition and entertainment? And is it important?

The answer Zirin provides is an unequivocal yes-there is much more to sports than meets the eye.

We all know the stories of people like Jackie Robinson; athletes who faced hate and obstruction to achieve first-time gains. But as the film makes plain, these individual improvements have been used to cloak the systematic inequalities and barriers that characterize professional sports, even today. Black athletes who call out societal injustices are pushed to the fringe of their sports. Women’s sports continue to see a decline in television coverage, separated from the more lucrative media markets that male athletes enjoy. Economic systems are put in place that reinforce an anti-worker, anti-union ideology in society more broadly.

With the NFL owners threatening to lockout the players and cancel the 2011 season, this documentary is quite timely. As the film noted, professional football players play for an average of only three years, and live an average twenty years less than the everyday person. The pain and injuries they endure helps maintain the profit margins of a sports entertainment industry that ranges from media conglomerates to apparel companies. And apart from the superstars, the average football player isn’t a millionaire, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary.

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss sports as just games, and hold athletes apart from workers in other industries. But as sports fans and society members, we can’t afford to fall into that trap. At the professional level – and increasingly at the collegiate level – sports are a powerful cultural institution and lucrative business. We must therefore demand the same fairness and equality in the arena that we expect to see in our schools, workplaces, and homes.

Watch the trailer to Not Just a Game; People, Politics, and American Sports, and see for yourself the deeper political undercurrents.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010 at 10:56 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Professional sports: More than what meets the eye”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AmericanRightsAtWork, Michael Wasser. Michael Wasser said: Latest blog entry looks at professional sports from a different perspective http://bit.ly/dVZFiq [...]

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