Congress & Sports: A Fit?

14 02 2008

Of the two sport-related investigations currently consuming chunks of Congress — the Clemens steroid scandal and the Belichick Spygate charade — neither one appears at first to have any real bearing on day-to-day American life. Athletes, many seem to argue, exist in a different sphere; sports, their own world. Entertainment should not come before Congress. These investigations, many say, are giant wastes of time and money.

But here, I have a few issues.

First, Sport has assumed a spot at or near the top flight of American business. According to the Sports Business Journal, the sports business industry’s size was estimated at $213 billion in 2007 — more than twice the size of the automobile industry and seven times the size of the film industry. At such a level, it becomes in the American legislature’s best interests to keep a close eye on and, if need be, intervene.

I’ve argued before that steroids signified athletes. But in this case, truth is at stake. Congress isn’t after Clemens because he took steroids (if he did). Congressmen are after him to ensure he’s telling the truth about it, to hold the business accountable. Clemens is one of the more recognizable figures in baseball, akin to higher-level management. Thus, this isn’t as much of a witch hunt as it is your average business case, along the same lines as simple embezzlement or fraud.

We shouldn’t let our businesses get away with lying to their stockholders. Sarbannes-Oxley is making sure that we don’t, reducing the chance for another Enron/Worldcom event. Perhaps we should expect the same accountability from our athletes, the ones whose salaries we pay through ticket sales and $11 beers.

That same argument holds for Arlen Specter’s examination into the Patriots’ Spygate. Although I feel like this is a matter that could have ended with Roger Goodell’s $500,000 fine and removal of two Pats draft picks, Specter’s intervention sends a good, we-won’t-tolerate-this-stuff signal.

In my high school, kids used to get in fights because they would get punished by the school and only by the school. This sent the message that if they were on school grounds, the school and its penalties — suspension being pretty much the maximum punishment — had the only jurisdiction. Thus, fights used to happen all the time (which was sweet), because there was never the sense that a higher governing body was watching over. My senior year, though, the school decided to turn fights over the police. Assault and battery charges followed scuffles, same way as they would have had they happened in public. Fights went away almost immediately.

Sports, for all of their simulated reality and hyperbolic metaphor, now signify a significant fraction of the American economy. And without the right policing, things could get ugly.

That said, are these issues that should involve Congress? Or can we expect the business, the individual teams or leagues, to police themselves?

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4 responses

14 02 2008
Adam B.

Furthermore, almost every new stadium is at least partially publicly funded. That gives elected officials the right to have concern over the actions of the employees who perform their jobs in those stadiums.

14 02 2008
TMoore

I agree. The Mitchell Report was a waste. The Patriots business is a waste.

I think it’s painfully obvious that sports cannot really police themselves, but maybe some type of external group which monitors activities within all the American sports. Talk about creating jobs! Then again, with how strong the MLB players union is, they probably be effective. It would probably be effective for the NFL and their inept players union.

Oh well, just some quick thoughts.

14 02 2008
TMoore

I meant to write it wouldn’t be effective against the MLB players union… I am retarded and don’t know how to go back and edit. Ok, I am going back to my cage.

14 02 2008
Cheesonnaise

I would hope that the leagues could come together and form a governance group. While working against the MLB players union would be difficult, it’s in the best interest of all professional sports.

The last thing they need is to piss off congress enough that they start passing laws to govern athletes, worse if they ever set up a federal agency to do the job.

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