Major U.S. corporate sponsors and sports entities have a lot in common. And that’s too bad. Sports entities have long flouted the rules of civilian decency and have been abetted by their allies, the event sponsors.
What else do sports teams, leagues and organizations and their sponsors have in common? They behave regardless of the circumstances as if their shows are above reproach, even though the historical record proves otherwise. It's long past when their scripts need rewriting.
With more than half of 2014 remaining, it’s been an especially difficult one for the sports world to proclaim its purity. Nevertheless the commissioners of baseball, football, basketball and the sovereigns of the Olympics shamelessly admit no wrongs. Is the National Hockey League with its concussions and fighting problems far behind?
The most recent episode in sports’ sorry saga recently occurred during the NHL playoffs with serious unsportsmanlike conduct during the New York Rangers-Montréal Canadians game.
A few days earlier a group of retired National Football League players sued the league claiming that they were given pain killing and ante-inflammatory meds by trainers and doctors to disguise injuries without proper prescriptions or warnings of possible side effects or long term damage to their health. Of course, the NFL will deny the charges. Because the show must go on as the league scripted it.
The National Basketball Association commissioner said he was shocked at the racist remarks of Los Angles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and is trying to force him to sell the team. Sterling has been accused of alleged civil rights violations and racism for years, which the NBA ignored. Because the show must go on as the league scripted it.
The International Olympic Committee and most of its sponsors ignored the human rights, anti-gay laws in Russia as the Sochi Winter games took place. Sadly, they also remained quiet during the public horse whipping of Pussy Riot members protesting Putin’s totalitarian rule. And when the Putin Olympics ended and Russia militarily annexed Crimea and moved on eastern Ukraine, the IOC and sponsors still remained quiet. Because the show must go on as the IOC scripted it. [Awarding the Olympics to totalitarian states is a habit with the IOC. The Sochi games were the second time they awarded it to Russia and the propaganda-laden playing field also was given to China.]
Sports organizations and their commissioners never admit wrong doing. Because their scripts never change, no matter how flawed.
Some scripts need reworking before the show is ready for the big time. The scripts by the major sports organizations need more than rewrites. They need to be entirely discarded and completely rewritten.
Sports should be treated under the same state and federal laws that other business operations must follow: guilt should be determined by impartial individuals and not declared by a commissioner anointed by self-interested team owners. And teams’ trainers and doctors should not be allowed to dispense medicines for the good of the team at the expense of the athlete.
It’s long past when sports were considered a wholesome family activity. The actions of parents, youth coaches, college athletes, college administrators, The National Collegiate Athletic Association, too many professional and "amateur" players and team owners have transformed sports into a hideous big business venture.
Sports leagues have always lived under laws and scripts that they created. For years, their PR machines have crafted a script that says sports entities’ and commissioners are impartial judges and juries.
In reality, the commissioners are employees of the leagues, doing what’s best for their employers. As such, individual athletes are made the sole scapegoats and team owners are found blameless for situations that they helped create. That’s not the rule of law. It’s the rule of sports.
Another sports script that needs to be discarded is the use of our military as pawns to create the image that sports and patriotism are entwined. Nothing could be further from the truth. Americans should be proud of our military; the happening on the sports scene is nothing to be proud of.
Defenders of the sports entities say sports needs special dispensation from laws that other businesses must adhere to. My question is why?
This is 2014, not 1914. Sports -- professional and collegiate -- are now a multi-billion business and should not be able to act under their own special laws. It’s like every other entertainment business and should be treated as such. The time for new sports scripts to be written is long overdue.
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Arthur Solomon is a frequent contributor to PR and sports business publications, consults on PR projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.