Stand by Your Fan? The Game of Greed in Professional Sports

Lenny KosteckiCorrespondent IFebruary 17, 2011

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 17: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals stretches prior to batting practice at Roger Dean Stadium on February 17, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

El Hombre. It’s a nickname some have hung on Albert Pujols. It’s Spanish for “The Man”, and it’s a flattering homage comparing No. 5 to No. 6, the real Man, Stan Musial. Mr. Pujols will be the first to tell you he doesn’t care for the name, there’s only one The Man in Cardinal Nation.

What a rather intriguing coincidence that right in the middle of this struggle between dinero, El Hombre and El Birdos, the man who voluntarily surrendered 20 percent of his salary as the result of a subpar seasonal performance was honored for his lifetime of integrity at the White House.

Talk about two different worlds.

And that’s what we seem to have here these days, two very different worlds.

This is not an attack on Pujols; he is not alone in this theatre. Not by a long shot. Within this isolated contract squabble, there are a number of key participants.

In addition to Albert, we have Albert’s agent. He has a stake in the contract numbers as his livelihood and reputation are directly linked to them.

The Players’ Union wants to see a monster contract, as it will create a nice precedent for player negotiations in the near future.

The Cardinal organization doesn’t want to see too much of its guaranteed millions walk out the door when future performance is unknown, especially with advanced age setting in.

Yes, we have plenty of profitable players. And this Greedfest is just one isolated incident in one professional sport. As the late night advertisements say: “But wait, there’s more!”

How about the sordid business of this little NFL misunderstanding?

In a sport more popular than ever, now considered America’s pasttime by many, a sport with billions of dollars floating about the ledgers, we have a pie that isn’t sliced to everyone’s liking.

The players want this. The owners want that. The fans? We just want football next fall.

Yet with all the untold wealth involved, dark clouds seem to be obscuring the 2011-12 season. Rookie caps. Longer seasons. Lockouts. And the pie with billions of ingredients remains on the shelf, a stale symbol of greed.

Remember the King James saga last offseason? The pomp. The circumstance. The primetime primping. The hardwood horror strung itself out for weeks upon agonizing weeks.

I might be inclined to label this as arrogance rather than greed if the NBA wasn’t on track to experience the next hissy fit over its profit sharing. More financial facts being fudged by fan-flogging factions.

How about 2004? A little league played on ice decided the bruising sport didn’t mean all that much to anyone. The NHL put an entire season on ice, or should I say off ice, melting the hearts of millions of fans.

An entire season eliminated. Poof. Much like ten years earlier, when Major League Baseball took a greedy wand and went “poof” to the World Series.

I keep coming back to the fans' aspect of all this greed. It’s funny how one segment of the professional sports world seems to be so intimately involved, yet has no voice. Or do they?

Fans have a very real control on how the money flows. Without fans in the seats, without fans in the stores buying merchandise, without fans paying for overpriced food, beverages and parking spots, without fans paying for cable channels dedicated to specific sports, where would the professional sports world be?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the representatives of professional sports were forced to come a-knockin’ on our doors, hats in hands? “Please, come back. We’re sorry. We promise to behave!”

And wouldn’t it be fun to slam the doors in their collective bargaining faces and let them sweat? Now there’s some real power for you.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid the catalyst for that type of satisfaction would be fans sporting pitchforks and torches. I’m fairly sure most fans don’t have it in them to let loose in such a very literal way. They’re called fanatics for a reason.

I just wish we could get back to a time similar to when a humble fellow wearing No. 6 approached his bosses with $20,000 in his hands and said: “I had a lousy year. I don't deserve the money."

The only change I might make is his boss' reply. “That’s okay, Stan, we know you gave it your best shot. You’re a hell of a ball player. You keep that money. Buy your wife something nice.”