Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Class Warfare and Sports Excellence

Read this Rob Neyer column, spun off from this Jorge Castillo article in the NYT, then we'll discuss things further...

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Here's what caught my eye:  Once ballplayers in Puerto Rico were made eligible for the draft in 1990, they started receiving much less money to sign.  This, it is thought, is one of the reasons that Puerto Rican kids are not as good in baseball as they were before, termed by commenter Fraggin Judge as a lack of economic urgency (particularly compared to, say, young ballplayers in the Dominican).

We have long heard that inner-city kids see athletics as their route to fame and fortune, primarily chasing dreams of future basketball or football superstardom.  I have also read that the finest boxers were always members of the lowest class of citizens, whether they were Jewish, Irish, Black, Native American, Italian, Latino, German, or what have you, and I wonder if MMA fighters also come from the same challenging backgrounds and childhoods.

I would love to see a far-reaching worldwide study on athletes and their socioeconomic backgrounds.  It would be my guess that a large percentage of the world's finest athletic talents came from poverty.

Although...

You know, a life of luxury provides sporting advantages to the ambitious.  Aspiring athletes who come from wealth will receive the finest coaching, utilize only the best in sporting equipment, and compete on only the best of surfaces.  They also receive the benefit of being able to travel far to test their abilities against the greatest of competition.

So I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the finest athletes in the world come out of the higher classes of society either.

It makes sense.

Someone in the lowest class would strive to become an athlete because the slim possibility of success and escape tramples the reality of how few reach the pinnacle; it's the same reason so many people play the lottery.

Someone in the highest class would strive to become an athlete because of the fame and glory that go with it; and they can still land on their feet afterward if they fail to attain their goal.

But if you're in the middle class, you have the combination of other opportunities that are open to you and the knowledge that the road toward a sporting career is fraught with cautionary tales.  Is it worth it to sacrifice a decade of your life toward a potentially fruitless, embittering chase when you can just go to college, then maybe grad school afterwards, and ideally find yourself in a far more stable vocation to support a family?  Probably not.

Basically, what I'm saying is:  If we want sports to continue to provide a high standard of excellence, entertainment, and achievement, we need greater socioeconomic inequality.

A large, comfortable middle class.  Good for society.  Bad for sports.

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