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Are Sports’ Salaries, Environmental Impact Out of Touch?

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I watched recently with more than 6 million people the PGA Championship.
It was one of the most exciting tournaments in recent memory—even without Tiger Woods playing on the weekend.

An article about Woods missing the cut was posted as the weekend rounds commenced, which concluded with the statements, “For the first time since turning pro, Woods has failed to post at least one top-10 finish in a major championship. And his season earnings totaled just $108,275.”

The idea that $108,275 is a meager amount for Woods led me to reflect on underlying issues that trouble me in the sports I watch.

Professional sports are enjoyable to watch, but I am often troubled by the disconnect between players’ and coaches’ salaries and those of the average American worker.

Here a few examples of minimum league salaries compared to the U.S. median salary for June 2014 of $53,891:

−     NHL: $525,000

−     NBA: $490,180

−     MLB: $490,000

−     NFL: $405,000

Consider, also, that the PGA Championship winner took home $1.8 million. The last-place finisher received a comparatively meager $17,600, but this is more than you would earn in a year at a minimum wage job in the U.S.

When wages for a few become so out of touch with the wages of the many, significant societal problems are revealed.

As Christians, we must consider how Jesus’ message of good news for the poor can provide guidance in addressing a system that values athletic performances more highly than occupations providing essential services.

Expanding my scrutiny beyond salaries and earnings caused me to become more uneasy as I considered issues that I often overlook in sports—their environmental impact, for example.

A U.S. Golf Association report noted that U.S. golf courses require more than 2 billion gallons of water a day to maintain. With global water shortages predicted by 2040, water usage at this level becomes an ethical issue.

Recognizing the problem, a well-known course in North Carolina implemented creative solutions to conserve water. Hopefully, other courses will learn from their example.

The environmental impact of sporting events, among other issues, that fans support through TV viewing and event attendance should be a central concern. Sadly, this is not something I’ve considered often. I imagine I am not alone.

Despite my ignorance, I was pleased to discover that the National Resources Defense Council has been working with major U.S. sports to improve their environmental awareness and limit their negative impact.

They have issued an extensive report describing how several sports are seeking to become more eco-friendly.

Reflecting on the negative aspects of sports I watch brought a scene to mind from the movie “Gladiator,” one focused on the inhumane Roman gladiatorial games.

Having defeated all his “opponents”—both animals and humans—in a gruesome battle, Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, bellows at the crowds, who have fallen silent as a result of the bloodshed.

“Are you not entertained?” he yells in disgust. “Is this not why you were here?”

While it would be inaccurate to compare most modern sports to the brutality of these games, this scene reminds me that my viewing and attending of sporting events fuels the system I am critiquing.

It’s a system that pays athletes an exorbitant amount of money and has several often overlooked consequences—from negative environmental implications to long-term, irreparable health problems of athletes, such as in American football.

I cannot sit in the stands enthralled with the events and then criticize what I have observed without also critiquing myself.

As is so often the case, recognizing societal problems results in a much-needed self-assessment.

Or, as Jesus’ once put it, “Pull the plank out of your own eye before helping remove the speck obscuring your neighbor’s vision” (Matthew 7:5).

But critique after self-reflection is not sufficient. We must follow the example of the Hebrew prophets whose critique was joined with a call to repentance and the offer of a better way forward.

When we become aware of the problems in our society, we must confess our own complicity and then seek to find ways that we can constructively address the issue.

Critique must be a beginning, not a culmination, in order to offer an avenue toward a better future.

The role sports fans can play might seem minimal, but what is demanded is supplied eventually in a free-market economy.

When people who buy tickets and watch events begin to voice their desire for safer, more eco-friendly sporting events that pay athletes fairly but not excessively, the powers that be will listen eventually.

Because efforts are already underway to address safety and environmental concerns, increased support from fans can spur additional improvements in a timelier manner.

Among other benefits, it will enable us to continue enjoying sporting events but to do so with clearer consciences.

Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com.