Hit harder on greed, corruption in sports

Letter sent 12/20/11 via email to the editor, Sports Illustrated, Time Inc.

Sports Illustrated                                                                                            20 December 2011

Dear Editor:

Please cancel my subscription to Sports Illustrated and refund the balance of the renewal payment automatically debited from my PayPal account against my intentions.

Putting Brad Pitt on the cover (“The New Moneyball,” 9/26/11) sent a disturbing message, in my view, and convinced me not to renew my subscription. Moneyball was a good book – in 2005. Since then, baseball’s money business has coopted any underdog theme entirely. More importantly, the whole money business is sickening the world of sport. In celebrating the movie, Sports Illustrated appears either unaware or just too cynical to care.

To be fair, the article on Theo Epstein shone light on baseball’s state of the art in statistical-financial evaluations of players. Week in and week out, the writing and particularly the photography in your magazine remain good. But there was still that celebrity cover – and something missing in the magazine’s cohesiveness, every week. Good articles are sandwiched in with random content in a tired format- while the sports world is coming apart. Consider Epstein’s Red Sox. For any reporter with the slightest moral awareness, Boston’s shameful collapse should have been as predictable as its players’ behavior was outrageous. But it seems that the editors of SI have a blind spot about the sickening effect of greed on sport.

As I see it, SI has hitched itself to professional sports and its mindset of big money business and TV broadcasts for couch potatoes—far too uncritically for my taste. I am not sure when this happened, but it is sad. The model is closer to moral bankruptcy than at any time in my 34 years as a fan. Free agency has eroded enduring associations between a player and his team and thereby destroyed meaningful rivalries. Owners have made it unaffordable for average fans to regularly attend the games. The leagues have removed the games from the public airwaves for cable revenues; the NFL will now charge cable subscribers additional fees to further inflate its grotesque monopoly. Eye-popping contracts, which have fueled amazing feats of individual athleticism, exert a larger cost of corrupting sport in so many ways.  Corruption slides downhill from the pros, polluting college football with its foul tide. From Bonds and Braun to Boogard and BCS, 2011 saw new levels of greed, cynicism, and mindless consumerism in big-time sports.

This has all happened on your watch, SI!! Where is the outrage?!

Austin Murphy recognizes how the BCS system stains college football, but his article “So I went to Vegas” reads like garbage and shows lame editing.  After much effort and a page of stupid photos, I recognized the format: an essay advocating a college football tournament wrapped in a Vegas weekend travelogue. Trivial and pointless! Call me a bore, but why hide the meaty stuff in your pages? Preferably, spare the fluff and just show the darn argument, with beefier reporting.

Fortunately, the world of sport goes far beyond pro sports. The money business of the games demands tougher coverage and a more incisive lens — throughout the magazine. An investigative look into how pro and college sports betting works, how the boosters and leagues manipulate fans and governments into financing exorbitant projects, what kind of amateur and local sporting activities have arisen in reaction to the cost of pro sports, and how local, amateur athletes are drawing on the revolutions in strategy and training to excel and enhance sport at the community level – well, that would all be much more worthwhile than more fantasy football updates and routine coverage. The New York Times series on Derek Boogard by John Branch is exemplary. SI has its own distinct tradition of love of sport – but I do not find that coming through in the magazine any more. The season previews, strikes and signings, and recurring scandals – to me it is all so boring and gross. The spectacle of greed disgusts me. I do not want to read any more.

I plan to read your sportsman/woman articles on Coaches Summitt and Kryzszewski, then take a hiatus from SI in 2012 and get back to basics in my own sporting life.  I hope you all can improve your magazine. I will check you out in a year or so.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew A. Lieber, Ph.D., SI subscriber on and off since 1978

Madison, Wisconsin


1 Comment

Filed under Sports

One response to “Hit harder on greed, corruption in sports

  1. student in American Government class

    I feel you have over thought the entire concept of Sports Illustrated. SI is directed for a wide range of audience, hence the “random content” in the “tired format”. As far as “SI has hitched itself to professional sports and its mindset of big money business and TV broadcasts for couch potatoes” it’s a sports magazine, if they want to stay in business they need to appease their readers with things of interest. That includes hard hitting articles sandwiched between fun facts and a random assortment of player bio’s and statistics about sports. That is what us “couch potatoes” enjoy reading about. Not everyone is so absorbed with the evils or low morals of sports.
    Saying that free agency has been a detriment to any sport is one of the most ignorant things I’ve ever heard. Put yourself into the shoes of a professional athlete, do you really think it’s fair to be owned by a sports team? To say team rivalries have diminished in any capacity is simply unfounded and clearly misinformed. Games between the Chicago Bears and Green bay packers (the longest rivalry in the NFL) haven’t lost any luster or excitement.
    On the topic of unaffordable, I’m an avid bucks fan and find the cost of tickets to be more than reasonable. The real cost of any sporting event is not the tickets but the gas driving to and from the event and paying for parking on the street. I don’t know where you prefer to sit but unless your seat is located on the floor of the court, tickets are for the most part priced fairly. Most sports organizations have a myriad of promotions to select as part of your fan appreciation. On another note, going to see a sporting event is not a right, I make the conscious decision to spend the time and money to enjoy myself for two hours watching world class athletes compete. If you can’t bring yourself to open your pocket book every once in a while then don’t go. If you don’t go, don’t complain.
    While I agree with some of your points on the corruption of the NCAA, saying the NFL or any other sports association is wrong for trying to make the most money it possibly can is a slap in the face of the free market system. When selling a product it’s the vision of a company to make money in the most efficient way possible. Who goes into business with the thought of only wanting to make enough money to stay in the black? The NFL has also made attempts at repealing the swelling sizes of contracts. Last year the NFL created a rookie wage scale as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.
    Before you make blanket statements about things you do not fully comprehend, do us all a favor and get the facts first. While you are certainly entitled to your opinion as stated in the constitution, it doesn’t give you a free pass on criticizing and belittling people who get paid to write about sports.

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