American professional and major college sports is a creation of the 20th century. It is dying in the 21st century. Greed by players and owners; the public's elevation of the uniquely athletic to a status reserved for royalty in previous generations; owners' belief that public money and tolerance is endless; players' belief they can impose their morality on fans and make demands on them based on their super-status as athletes – all are leading to the steady erosion of spectator sports in American life.
Greed is the main driving factor that had sports on life support, but the latest injections of social justice has given what should prove to be the final push into irrelevancy.
Professional sports owners' success at demanding increasingly expensive taxpayer-funded construction of ever more outlandish stadiums has become a way of measuring status among billionaire owners. Note how stadium designs come in waves. Although perfectly usable, the multipurpose concrete doughnut stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s, where a hockey team and NBA team might share an arena along with concerts, boxing matches and large conventions, fell out of favor by the 1980s and 1990s. Owners demanded special-built facilities just for their teams and added demands for things like retractable roofs, "throwback" construction and luxury amenities. In spite of cities' financial struggles and over-stretched tax bases, they are arm-twisted into building lavish stadiums and arenas for billionaire owners and their multimillionaire players under threat of teams moving and further damaging the cities' economies.
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The social justice trend of athletes using these outrageously expensive taxpayer-funded stadiums as a place to insult patriotic fans and American veterans to their face during the national anthem only adds painful insult to injury for beleaguered fans who just want to watch a game. It has become impossible for many fans to enjoy a game when force-fed demonstrations of hate for their country.
College sports have come a long way from the early days when students on campus had athletic students play athletic students from another university at some game, and the campus all came out to watch. Student recruitment and scholarships based solely on the ability to play a sport raised the level of competition and level of interest, which generated enormous amounts of money. Greed crept into every aspect, until revenue-generating college sports – although officially amateur – have grown into semi-pro development leagues. In light of the billions in revenue from television, merchandising, licensing and other income streams, college athletes and their advocates have demanded they should be paid in addition to the benefit they receive in their full-ride scholarships.
Just as social justice gestures have crept into professional sports with players making a show of their disrespect for the American flag, college athletes have taken it to the next level. In addition to kneeling during the anthem, college players have begun asserting their personal opinions to bully coaches, university administrators and students into bending to their will on things players find "offensive."
A few weeks ago, Oklahoma State University football coach Mike Gundy was seen in a photo from a fishing trip wearing a T-shirt with the One America News Network logo. OAN is a conservative news outlet. Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard saw the picture and declared his refusal to play football. Coach Gundy immediately issued a video apology, for wearing a T-shirt on his own private time that had the logo of a TV network of which a player disapproves.
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At that point, the blueprint was set for the future of college sports. It was clear that athletes now run the show at the college level, athletes who come and go. Many are teenagers, emotional, from diverse backgrounds, high on the ego-boosting drug of worship by fans and recruiters. The speed with which Oklahoma State caved to the personal opinion of a single player over a T-shirt guaranteed the same drama would be repeated elsewhere.
The Kansas State University athletic program is now embroiled in a threatened boycott led by members of the football team, joined thereafter by the KSU women's basketball team, demanding the expulsion of a student who tweeted a joke in poor taste. The one-liner, a current version of a decades old joke following the death of any high-profile person, including Michael Jackson, Jeffrey Epstein and many others, is neither original nor especially funny. But it was not particularly offensive to anyone but the most sensitive, and neither explicitly or implicitly racial.
Universities are in a no-win situation, and it will be interesting to see how they handle demands and boycotts by athletes as this trend takes off. Caving to athlete demands will guarantee more demands and chaos in their programs. Some demands, such as expelling a student over a tweeted joke, will be legally impossible to meet. If athletes follow through with boycotts, will the schools withdraw scholarships for refusing to play the sport for which athletes were given a scholarship? If not, schools will not only lose that scholarship money, but will forfeit those roster spots and diminish income derived from revenue-generating sports.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the NFL and NASCAR were titans of American sports programming. Both are now embroiled in racial controversies, and both are taking public stances in defiance of their core fan bases. Professional sports are mired in leftist politics and the wheels are coming off college sports on several levels. Even the Olympics and cable sports channels have become nothing more than sports-themed vehicles for liberal political lectures at sports fans. It is no longer entertaining for many Americans. We are likely seeing the end of American sports as all of us have known it.