When I was 10-years-old, I challenged myself to dig a 6-foot deep, 15-foot by 30-foot swimming pool in my backyard. On that hot summer day when I had nothing to do, I suddenly had a lot to do. The plan was simple: get my dad’s shovel, and dig. And, of course, ignore Will Rogers’s sound advice: “If you find yourself in a hole, then quit digging.” So, I dug into the earth with a focus unparalleled. The slicing sound of the shovel head knifing through the dirt over and over became my music of labor. However, within thirty minutes, my hands were stinging with blisters from the friction of the shovel’s wooden handle. After an hour, and nearly worn out, I took a moment to admire my progress. I had excavated an area of about 4-square feet, and maybe a foot deep. There was no end in sight. At that rate, I would probably finish digging my swimming pool by the time I was 40. So, I quit on the spot. It was an impossible challenge.
I tell that story, because lately I’ve been thinking about offering a challenge. A challenge that really should not be that impossible, but when you think about it from a cultural perspective, well, maybe it is. But something needs to change, because the culture has got it all wrong.
My challenge is this…
I challenge all the sports writers and broadcasters in this country, for one year, not to mention even one single peep about how much money a professional athlete makes. I know, I know, it’s a seemingly impossible task. Anymore, it’s truly as if a player’s salary has taken the limelight in sports. Whatever happened to just reporting about sports? It’s fair to say that most journalists do a pretty good job of reporting sports. But why is it that when an athlete turns pro, big money becomes such a big deal? Player’s salaries, signing bonuses, and endorsements spew out all day long in the headlines. The only reason we as media consumers care, is because the media has trained us to care. But we really don’t care, we just listen. Actually, we don’t even listen, we just hear.
“LeBron was going to sign a $24 million deal with this team, but, instead, he’s going to sign a $25 million deal with that team, including $15 million guaranteed, in addition to his $10 million advertising endorsements, and $5 million appearance fees that will include complimentary breakfast, lunch, and dinner in his $10,000 per night penthouse suite fully furnished with $100,000 Italian leather furniture, and full-size refrigerator stocked with free Snickers, M&M’s, and Baby Ruth candy. Oh, and did I mention Lebron averaged 27.1 points per game last year?”
This is how much we don’t care how much money a player makes each year…
At the beginning of football season, the goal of every NFL team is to win as many games as possible, and advance to (and win) the Super Bowl. That is also the ultimate goal of every fan cheering on his or her favorite team. When it comes down to every single play in those games, all the players, coaches, owners, and fans care about is how well their team is playing. Whether it was the 5-year $100 million wide receiver who made the game-winning touchdown, or it was the lowest-paid player on the roster who did the same, all anyone cares about is the catch—that last defining victorious moment. And yet, in all the grandeur of that moment, in all of its glorious athleticism whereby that final touchdown claimed the Super Bowl trophy, the post-game sports broadcasters will inevitably say, “Well, Johnson certainly had the game of his life, and what a catch that was! Now, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out next year, as he will be a free-agent. For sure, that catch will be bargaining leverage. His $5 million dollar salary just doubled! ”
Leave the negotiations to the teams and players to talk about. Let their business be their business. Let their performance be our news. And for those professional athletes who feel it’s necessary that the world be informed of their mega-millions, well I don’t know how much more professional and simpler to put it other than, go visit your local Voodoo witch doctor and have your head shrunk.
If, at times, sports writers and broadcasters are having a slow day at the office and don’t have enough sports material to report, then I’ll include one exception to my challenge: you can write forever about an athlete’s character.
Reporting a professional athlete’s salary does nothing to our heart strings. It lingers in us as nothing more than an anecdotal fact on a spreadsheet. The money stories are only rich in feeding superficial curiosity. It does not equate to good character. I believe that every single multi-millionaire athlete has a story to tell. They have that element in them where money doesn’t matter. They have a charitable foundation they’ve created. They visit children’s hospitals and sit by the beds of very ill kids who want nothing more than these athletic freaks of nature to pull up a chair and read them a book. They visit rehab centers trying to get wounded soldiers back on their feet or up on their new set of legs. They build recreation centers in the inner-cities where they once grew up and learned to play the game. They, like J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, love to embrace Halloween and hand out candy to hundreds of smiling faces. They travel to foreign countries in the off-season and assist or lead with missionary help. Or they stopped along the highway to help a stranded family with a broken-down car, and though the family couldn’t stand the team he played for, he asked them to be his guest at the next home game, and, in return, an unexpected friendship had just begun. As certain as there will always be death and taxes, stories of character will always triumph over stories of money.
So, for one year, try the challenge. I guarantee you’ll not only make for better sports journalists, but you’ll also be changing the culture of the sports media for the better. Stop reporting the World’s Top 100 Wealthiest Athletes. Stop telling us how many yellow Lamborghinis, Great Danes, swimming pools, home theaters, and private jets they own. Stop with the bling-bling and move on to that which sports fans can cheer about as true successes: an athlete’s performance & character.
Now that’s priceless.
Copyright Ros Hill 2015