By Larry Hawley
Defenders USA Fellow
Sports are part of the fabric of America. The national pastimes, whether baseball or football, allow everyday people to escape their problems for a three hour period and root, root, root for the home team. However, professional and even amateur sports have become big business through enormous television contracts, merchandising, and billion dollar sports stadiums. We are not just fans anymore; we are also consumers with choices. The salaries of athletes and coaches have gradually grown in millions with the cost being passed onto consumers. A consumer’s taste can drive the market and decide the millions doled out to our favorite sports stars. With this power, you would think we would use it more often.
A percentage of athletes, like a percentage of the populace as a whole, take the field or court with a criminal record or pending case files. With a diligent sports media, we are informed immediately when charges filed against athletes and have the opportunity to decide whether he is guilty to our eyes. Debates ensue about whether the athlete is more susceptible to criminality because of his background or the temptations that the sports star lifestyle provides. Tiger Woods’ arrogance to carry on numerous affairs is said to be linked to a feeling of immunity as the best golfer in the world. NFL Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s choice of women and place of intercourse is to be forgiven because his team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, cannot adequately replace a two-time Super Bowl champion. Lawrence Taylor, also a two-time champ and one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history is given the benefit of the doubt as he didn’t know that the woman he paid for sex with was only sixteen years old.
Fans – as a consumer of a high end product – demand success out of their home teams. They want great athletes on the field of play to enjoy their skills and to let out their frustrations upon. As children, sports fans grow up idolizing their favorite athlete. The expectation is of great performance, but also great humanity. As adults, sports fans know that athletes are fallible, but tend to ignore their flaws if they provide great performance. As sports media has grown, the enormity of sports has been overstated. Teams are now believed to carry cities out of the doldrums, i.e. the Saints in New Orleans.
What we tend to forget as sports fans is that we are also citizens and our consuming habits can change behavior. Fair trade goods are growing in popularity in the United States and are an important part of the work to end modern-day slavery. Keeping companies accountable for their labor practices changes corporate behavior in the same way that refusing to purchase Tiger Woods’ sponsored goods or Ben Roethlisberger jerseys does. Telling your favorite team that employing a sexual batterer is unacceptable will send the message to that athlete that the privilege of earning millions of dollars to play a game can be taken away. Sports may be a billion dollar industry, like sex trafficking, but we are not powerless to change its practices.