An overdue admission: my dad knew more about pro sports than I did

I know how my children feel when I do or say something that makes one, two, or all three of them roll their eyes in exasperation. When I was their age I thought my father was just as out of touch as they think I am now.

Full disclosure: from the moment I was old enough to care about anything my obsession was professional sports. I wasn’t one-dimensional, though; my wide variety of interests ran the gamut from baseball to football to basketball to hockey.

I often slept in my Little League uniform. I spent every cent of my quarter-per-week allowance on sports-related collectibles, primarily baseball cards. From the time I was old enough to venture out on my own until my late teens my friends and I spent a significant part of most days throwing or catching some sort of ball.

My dad, a casual sports fan at best, recognized and validated his oldest son’s ardent interest, but he nevertheless persistently tried interesting me in other pursuits, like cars, building model airplanes, and reading. He valiantly attempted to involve me in photography, history, carpentry, or great literature, but I disdained them all. The harder he tried making me appreciate Churchill, Shakespeare, and Dickens, the more I focused on Mays, Mantle, and Aaron.

Then one day he offhandedly uttered words that rattled me to my core. “You know, you could lose interest in sports someday. You might even stop caring about baseball,” he said.

His merely suggesting such an outlandish possibility was as baffling as it was infuriating. Inferring something so implausible was proof my clueless father just didn’t get it. Me losing interest in baseball would have been the equivalent of an Einstein disavowing physics, a Sinatra discarding singing, or a Rockefeller living as a pauper.

But despite Dad’s tepid interest in for-profit athletics he recognized my ardor for them, and for the most part he didn’t overtly discourage me. In fact, he brought me to my first professional game fifty years ago.

In 1967 six reserved seat tickets to New York’s Shea Stadium cost a total of fifteen dollars. Dad and my Uncle Eddie couldn’t go for box seats, though. Those were $3.50 per seat (imagine a stratospheric $21 for six tickets!), and our adult chaperones needed sufficient money to fill my brother, my two cousins and I with 25-cent hot dogs, 35-cent pizza slices and 50-cent hamburgers.

I treasured every minute of that meaningless late-September tilt between the National League’s two worst teams, Houston Astros and the New York Mets. I even forgave Dad for suggesting we leave after the 8th inning, when the game was still tied. (He was hoping to beat postgame traffic; happily for all concerned, the Mets won in the bottom of the 9th.)

But how things have changed.

Today’s obsessed sports fans howl shrilly about stratospheric player salaries, outrageous ticket prices, and obscenely expensive officially licensed team apparel, among other things.

But how they themselves choose to spend their money is what’s responsible not just for the aforementioned issues, but also for the even-more-indefensible profits being generated for entitled team owners who are, if possible, even less deserving of drawing eight-digit annual salaries than their highly-compensated but temporary employees are. And make no mistake, even the biggest stars have limited shelf lives. Babe Ruth, Johnny Unitas, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bobby Orr, each at one time a premier player in his sport, were all ingloriously dumped once their skills began deteriorating. The same holds true today, as Barry Bonds, Randy Moss, Paul Pierce, and/or Martin Brodeur can verify.

Contemporary major league professional sports are played primarily by wealthy behemoths who have little if anything in common with those who, for whatever reason(s), pay to watch them perform. Games are high decibel, three-hour commericals scripted to maximize profits for the major professional sports cartels and their corporate partners.

And only the willfully ignorant can ignore overwhelming evidence that the disposable combatants (particularly in the NFL) are likely to live shortened, impaired lives because of their participation in these “games.” Collegiate versions of football and basketball are, if possible, even less attractive products than the NBA and the NFL. That’s because unlike their professional brethren, the people running these glorified gladiator shows do so without the inconvenience of having to pay the performers, an advantage allowing athletic departments and big name coaches a virtual license to print money. There is virtually nothing attractive about big-time professional sports in 2017.

My father died more than four decades ago, but were he around today I imagine we’d have more than a few lively conversations. And the one we’d have about sports for profit would begin with me admitting to Dad he was right and I was wrong.

Andy Young
October 1, 2017

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