Sports is the elixir of American society. When there’s a big game, it overshadows everything else in our life. There’s no equivalent phenomenom in our nation.
Politicians, especially those of the full-time variety (yes, I’m making that distinction), are constantly seeking ways to be relevant.
When there is a controvery in sports, whether real or perceived, it’s inevitable that politicans will want to be seen as “solving” the problem. The best example of this was the anabolic steroids hearings back in 2006. Another example is the continued effort to reform the BCS system for college football.
Note that not all these causes are bad. The BCS, for example, is a blatant monopoly which discriminates against small-conference schools.
However, the general principle is a bad one. Why? First, sports conferences are private organizations that have the right to set their own rules. Second, there is no legislative expertise in this field. By definition, these legislative hearings are exercises in over-reach and ignorance.
That brings us to the “Bounty” penalties recently levied against the New Orleans Saints.
Personally, I think the NFL’s death penalty response is disingenuous. (Don’t they sell videos of the league’s hardest hits?) To me, it’s obvious that a $1,500 bonus payment from a position coach to an NFL starter making over $3 million a year is not economically meaningful, either to the player or to the salary cap. It’s a symbolic recognition, albeit for an act (knocking out another player) that should not be rewarded.
But that’s one man’s opinion. Here, the NFL investigated the issue and the Commissioner came down with a heavy penalty. Again, I think the scope of the penalty far outpaced the actual conduct, but it is what it is. Under League Rules and the collective bargaining agreement, the players and coaches are bound by the Commissioner’s rulings.
Sports like football, hockey and boxing involve acts that would be considered criminal outside the playing arena. We all know that. But inside the arena, we pay a lot of money to see selected athletes perform — and we have leagues that regulate the conduct.
It’s a highly select profession and professional athletes assume the risk. The same principle applies to amateur athletes who complete triathalons or fight in judo tournaments. They understand their sport a lot better than we do, and they don’t need a legislative body telling them what’s “safe” and what’s not.
These hearings are all about grand-standing, after the issue has been addressed.
Here’s an alternative idea: if you’re really concerned about the health of Americans, how about holding hearings into the decline of physical education and the growth in obesity in American children over the past 20 years? Aren’t those social costs eventually assumed by the Federal taxpayer thru Medicaid? Isn’t that more relevant than whether Gregg Williams paid $500 to have his linebackers hit Brett Favre?
You may not get the same 15 minutes of media attention, but at least you’d be doing your job.