Years ago I was kind of a big deal in sports (insert Will Ferrell “Anchorman” smirk here). First as an executive with one of the largest sports marketing firms in the world, then later with my own agency based in Atlanta, I ran large international sports events (ATP tennis, AVP volleyball, etc.) and was a certified player-agent.
The perks of that career period included multiple adjunct professorships, a nationally distributed sports column, frequent national media appearances, fast cars, a big house – and enough soul-crushing misery to fill my custom-made Japanese soaking tub.
In truth, I hated the shallow world of being a sports agent, and I did my best to condemn the inescapable dark and despicable underbelly of the big-money and small-ethics industry.
My disdain was memorialized in 1999 when I became the first NBA player-agent in history to become “decertified.” My crime? I spoke out against the player’s union (which, through collective bargaining, agents are members) during the 1998-’99 NBA lockout. In short, I called the union leaders idiots for costing the players $500 million in lost revenue during a six-month labor dispute.
A media headline that stands out from that painful time was from a feature story in The Wall Street Journal: “Sports Agent Is Not Out of the Woods.” (Funny, Wall Street Journal, funny.)
Ultimately I was more than happy to retire my Jerry Maguire Club membership in 2001 when I moved to Maine with my wife and kids – a decision that still ranks up there as the best 1-2 parlay of my life.
Fast-forwarding to my last six years of activity in Maine politics and I’m feeling a sense of deja vu all over again (pun intended).
While sports and politics are dissimilar in some ways, the core engines that drive both human enterprises are very much the same: money, ego, power, and a potent form of voodoo psychology that requires the suspension of critical thinking from the masses (fans and voters) in place of raw emotional fanaticism.
In sports: Must the New York Yankees be evil for a proper Bostonian to support the Red Sox? Does loyalty to a college in North Carolina demand the permanence of a blue devil tattoo on your butt? Can anyone ever “Be Like Mike” by purchasing his $175 footwear instead of Lebron’s $175 shoes – both made by Nike in the same third-world country by the same child labor?
Can you respect and be a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a NASCAR driver without owning a Chevrolet car, insured by Nationwide, with parts from NAPA, running Valvoline oil, while you’re wearing Wrangler jeans, drinking Mountain Dew, followed by a scoop of Breyer’s ice cream, before you shower with Suave shampoo – without hating Jimmie Johnson?
In politics: If you’re a Republican, can you be open to the compelling science of climate change without yelling “conspiracy” while holding up a snowball? Or, that an “amendment” from 1791 with just 27 words, containing the phrase “well regulated militia” should be open to being “amended” in 2015 based upon new (many tragic) realities (population, technology, mental health, our government won’t be attacking you in a manner that requires an AR-15, etc.)?
And, if you’re a Democrat, can you admit the fiscal truth that government itself cannot be the sole answer to every hardship or hope, real or amplified, faced by every American? Do you understand that there is no such thing as “government funds” – just money controlled by various levels and branches of government collected in the form of taxes from one group of taxpayers, corporate and individual, and then transferred through the conduit of our treasury to others? It’s not government money – it’s ours.
Also, when we incur $18.3 trillion in national debt (current level) to pay for various programs well-intended to solve a multitude of problems – that we’re not eliminating those issues/needs/problems, but instead just deferring and transferring pain and hardship into another form, one that grows exponentially: economy-crushing debt service.
Yes, Tom Brady most certainly knew something about the air pressure in those footballs through his relationship with team staff, but lacking any hard evidence, it’s much easier and cleaner for the New England Patriots sports tribe to vilify Roger Goodell for his clumsy handling of the matter than to hold our sports hero accountable at all.
Same with Maine House Speaker Mark Eves and his initial hiring by the Good Will-Hinckley School for the $120,000-a-year president’s job. The fact that Eves was a vocal critic and active political opponent of charter schools, and that he possessed no direct experience in the area of education leadership, should have generated reasonable debate and discussion in the context of political hypocrisy, opportunism and educational qualifications.
Instead, Gov. Paul “Petty-Punitive” LePage executed a mean-spirited political intervention plan against Eves, resulting in the Good Will-Hinckley job offer being rescinded; any discussion of the hiring decision itself was lost in the political dust. (Stay tuned for the upcoming legal battle.)
Might both Eves and LePage deserve some measure of criticism for the Good Will-Hinckley debacle, or must we always chose one player to support, even in a dirty game?
Maybe none of this matters in sports or politics. Maybe it’s more important for us all to align with our favorite team or political party, regardless of truth, ethics or greater-good principles.
Years ago I left the world of being a sports agent and that world left me. Now, I’m feeling the same way about politics here in Maine. In both arenas one must decide if you’re willing to “play the game” or fight the machine.
I learned from The Wall Street Journal years ago that you can’t do both.
Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.