Why Do We Grant Sports Stars So Much Privilege In Our Society?

Why Do We Grant Sports Stars So Much Privilege In Our Society? May 24, 2010

Those who know me well know how much I dislike the way we glorify sports and sports stars in our society. I am not saying that no one should be playing sports, nor that all sports should be unprofessional (although, I wouldn’t complain if that change took place). What I dislike is how sports figures earn far more than they are worth, and they are given far greater leeway than the rest of us if and when they mess up. They have taken the place of idols in our contemporary situation.

While some sports figures might do some good for society (just like some religious cults did good), for the most part, I think they are few and far between. Others, if not the majority, act as if they don’t care about society and the sacrifices people make to ensure their own livelihood continues to exist without difficulty. We not only honor them with praises, but we give to them, as if we were tithing, from the wealth of our bounty. It’s not just the stars, but the teams and their owners as well who get these benefits. The fact that cities feel as if they have to finance the costs of sports stadiums without getting any return from them should tell us what is going on. Such subsidies point to the standing sports have been given in our society; such entertainment is seen to override necessities (such as paying teachers, hiring more police, paying for our jails, et. al.).  Even if we would not want to call them idols, we must at least recognize that sports stars appear to be a religious class in our secular society. They play the role of mediators, appeasing the citizens through their rites of play, and so what is given to them appears to be what was once given to priests in a bygone age.

Now, I understand the history of sports, and that they have often held an important position in society. Not only did Rome have “bread and circuses,” the team one supported had political and religious connotations.  Sports could and did unify people. It is for this reason why the religious significance of sports must not be neglected, and why it appears it has grown, creating a Comteian social religion.

While I would never pay to see a sporting event, I can understand others will. I do not think we need to get rid of sports, but I do think there needs to some sort of reform so that sports and sports stars are not given special treatment in relation to the rest of society. Just because one is a sports star, one should not be given a life of privilege. This is a problem not just with professional sports, but with sports in general. Take for example what happened in Carmel, Indiana this year. As Jason Whitlock on FoxSports reports, four high school basketball players are being protected and being charged with lesser crimes than what they have done:

A prosecutor in Carmel, Ind., hid behind the grand-jury process so that misdemeanor charges would be filed against a group of senior Carmel High School basketball players who ‘hazed’ a group of freshmen players by allegedly pulling their pants down and violating them with some type of ‘anal penetration,’ according to a lawyer for one of the alleged victims.

[….]

The Carmel school system, the prosecutor and the parents of the alleged perpetrators have “managed” the investigation of this crime since day one. If they had had their way, the ‘hazing’ would’ve been ignored or handled by school administrators. In 1998, when the Carmel swim team was engulfed in a similar hazing incident, the prosecutor hid behind a grand jury and declined to seek any criminal charges against the swimmers.

For those who have been following the case since February, it is clear something rotten is going on here. Many see this as a cover up, and think it is similar to what happened in the swimming incident.

Is it an issue of privilege, so that the prosecutor is giving a preferential option for rich basketball stars? Is it an issue of race, where the charges would have been different, if the majority of the players involved were black? Is it an issue of sexism, where the charges would have been different if the victim had been a girl? I suspect elements of all three are indeed in play here. But there is more. I can’t help but think that because the deviants involved in the attack were sports stars, they are being charged with lesser crimes. If they were ordinary students, even if they were rich, and they did this in the bathroom of the high school, I expect things would have ended up differently.

I feel great sorrow for the victim and his family. Not only did he suffer on the bus, he has suffered all kinds of injustice since the incident. He had to change schools because of what happened to him. While the prosecutor seems to be doing him no good, hopefully the civil case will reveal what truly happened, and how far corruption has been involved in preventing the criminal case from being what it should be. It’s quite clear, this is “more than a simple hazing incident.”

Of course, one might say that this is an isolated incident. In Carmel, it is not. But more importantly, if one looks around, one can easily find all kinds of problems with sports teams, and all kinds of cover-ups being done to help protect the stars. Yes, there have been false accusations, and those should be taken seriously as well. But false accusations should not lead us away from investigating what goes on with our sports, and what kinds of privilege we give to those involved with them. Is this what we truly want? If we rightfully complain about priests and pastors who sexually abuse others, shouldn’t we also get tough on sports stars who do the same?

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