ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
It’s human nature to think that what we do in life is important. Most of us will never find a cure for cancer or solve world hunger. That doesn’t diminish the value of teachers, trash collectors, coaches, doctors, nurses, administrators, businessmen and women, sports columnists and others.
Most of our jobs have some redeeming value and purpose in society.
Where are sports on the grand stage of life? They’re on the stage of fame and fortune.
College and universities know that sports are important. They devote millions of dollars for athletic facilities, programs and salaries. At most major colleges, at least one or two coaches earn more than the university president.
High schools must think that sports are important. They spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on basketball gyms and football fields, athletic equipment and uniforms. They believe that the opportunities in athletic competition outweigh some lost class time.
Parents have concluded that sports are important. They invest hundreds of dollars on equipment, shoes, camps and summer leagues so their children have an opportunity to excel in athletes.
Small-city government believes that sports are important. A lot of taxpayer money is spent for sports complexes and recreation programs for the greater good of the people. In addition, who knows how many gallons of water and money are poured onto golf courses to keep the grass green for golfers?
Newspapers know that sports are important. Nearly every newspaper has a sports section or sports department. Newspapers cover sports as well or better than almost any aspect of the news.
Radio stations know that sports are important. Some radio stations air sports 24 hours a day with games and talk shows.
Television knows that sports are important. National networks dictate the game times in many cases. Every television station devotes a segment of its newscast to sports, right? Well, most do.
KSN-TV 3 in Wichita recently announced plans to drop the sports segment in their newscasts and cover sports on the basis of its news value.
Sportswriters, broadcasters and columnists reacted with righteous indignation and self-importance to KSN’s decision. KSN is betting that dropping the sports segment won’t hurt the bottom line and may indeed help it.
Whether KSN’s decision is based on principle or economics, it’s an interesting case. For some, the issue is whether TV 3 will gain or lose more viewers with their dramatic change. But the real issue about sports involves fame and fortune, and that makes KSN’s decision somewhat surprising.
High school athletes achieve a degree of notoriety and fame through the local newspaper. If an athlete succeeds in college they become more famous and achieve a monetary benefit through scholarships. If an athlete makes it to the professional level, they are practically guaranteed fame and fortune.
If you don’t believe that sports are about fame and fortune, consider the way college alumni pressure their schools to have a top-flight football or basketball team. The pressure is placed squarely on coaches and schools to win at all costs.
A winning coach will not only be famous, but he will earn a fortune through salaries, shoe contracts and other endorsements.
Everyone, from ESPN and Sports Illustrated to local radio, television and newspapers, feeds the fame-and-fortune mantra.
It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. Are sports important because fame and fortune are associated with them? Or does the fame and fortune follow naturally because of something innately appealing about athletic competition?
It’s probably a combination of both. Either way, most of us would like to think there are other redeeming values that make sports worthwhile in spite of all the hoopla and loss of perspective.