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Pro sports sinking even faster than U.S. leaders

Published 11:28am Friday, July 8, 2011

It has to be embarrassing to be less competent than the federal government. The feds are making progress on their dire budget and debt situation, while Minnesota’s leaders seem to be mostly going backwards.

Fortunately for both levels of government, there are others in the race for the title of “Most Messed Up.” Those would be, of course, America’s professional sports organizations.

The National Football League makes Minnesota’s deadlocked leaders look like geniuses because the NFL has been trying to work out disagreements over pay — disagreements, mind you, between billionaires and millionaires — for considerably more than a year. And its lockout, which has itself lasted or months, is almost at the point where the fans, whose entertainment is the league’s entire reason for existence, are going to be affected.

(One is tempted to say that the fans will suffer, but it’s pretty tough to claim that being deprived of pro football actually constitutes suffering, especially compared to real-world problems like starvation, flood, fire and armed violence.)

To cap it off, some NFL teams, notably the Minnesota Vikings, have the nerve to ask for taxpayer assistance to build new stadiums where they can increase their profits. Nothing wrong, by the way, with making a profit. But there is something wrong with a highly profitably business asking the taxpayers to build it a new facility, whether it’s a stadium or a manufacturing plant.

Meanwhile, the National Basketball Association and its players have launched their own lockout — another battle of millionaires versus billionaires, and one where neither side deserves any fan sympathy.

Some NBA players are talking about taking their show overseas, which demonstrates how little they think of their American fans. If they’re going to play basketball, why not play informal games for American audiences? It’s we Americans, after all, who ultimately pay their gigantic salaries.

Although a few of baseball’s owners — notably those of the Mets and Dodgers — have managed to embarrass themselves and Major League baseball, the American and National leagues are at least open for business. As long as one doesn’t look any further, that makes baseball look like this summer’s champions. Those who do look further will see all sorts of ridiculous things, such as an All-Star game that will exclude the American League’s winningest pitcher (C.C. Sabathia) and feature one of its lower-ranked shortstops, the declining Derek Jeter.

Meanwhile, former baseball great Roger Clemens is on trial not precisely because he used steroids — or “banned substances,” as they’re better known — but for allegedly lying to Congress and investigators when they asked whether he’d used.

Which, after similar prosecutions of other pro athletes, leads one to wonder why so much prosecutorial effort is put into pursuing steroid cheaters. Clemens’ case arose from a Congressional “investigation” of steroid use in pro baseball, an investigation that produced no tangible result except to generate lots of sound bites and print quotes for the politicians involved. Whether Clemens lied when he denied using is something that his trial will determine; but one must wonder who among us, faced with the possibility of washing our entire life’s work away no matter which answer we gave, would have stood up and admitted to steroid use. A few players have done so. More have denied it, and who’s to say they are wrong?

So the pursuit of athletes, from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens to any number of cyclists seems like taking the matter a bit too far.

Which brings us back to the federal government, from which most steroid investigations seem to spring. Maybe it is a contender for “Most Messed Up”, after all.

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