Not long ago I made passing reference to the apparent fact that a great many athletes who make millions of dollars playing a game and getting endorsements seem to lack any sort of social conscience. I realize that there are notable exceptions — such as Billie Jean King, Magic Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Adrian Peterson — to name a few. But on the whole, many athletes are reluctant to speak out about the problems around them and to lend their considerable weight, money, and reputation to movements that might actually help rectify many social ills — such as poverty and the lack of opportunity for so many people. The medieval thinkers would have called this the “sin of omission,” the failure to act when an evil is clearly perceived. The problem is that many of these athletes simply don’t perceive the ills that surround them in this society.
Indeed, when many athletes retire the best they can think of is to open an academy or a school where they will teach youngsters to play the games that made them famous. I blogged about Andy Roddick not long ago in this respect. That is not a bad thing and it is nice to see these people “giving back” to the games they play, but they are after all just games. There are more serious problems that need attention, to be sure. This simply shows us how small the world the world is in which these people live.
But when you think about it, what are we to expect? Take golf, for example. Sports Illustrated does a poll every year among the American male golfers, and except for David Duval (who has recently been relegated to golf’s minor leagues), there isn’t a single American golfer who would be caught dead voting for a Democrat. This is not to say that only Democrats are socially responsible; that is surely not the case. But so many of those golfers are simply concerned to make sure they keep a tight grip on as much of their money as they possibly can, and they seem convinced that the best way to assure that is to vote for Republicans. If they do get involved with charities it is usually ones that touch them in a close, personal way. God forbid the state or country should take some of their money and do some real good with it.
These men tend to identify the Democratic Party with Socialism and while they have no idea what that means, they know they don’t want to have anything to do with it. But again, what are we to expect? They fly all over the world, but they have no idea what is going on in that world. They live in gated communities; fly in private jets or first class accommodations; stay in high-priced hotels or rent a condominium during their current tournament; play at the world’s poshest golf courses and are taxied back and forth in the latest expensive SUV; and they engage in conversation only with like-minded, wealthy Republicans. They are the pawns of their corporate sponsors — as suggested by their clothing which is covered with corporate logos. In fact, the only people with more logos on their clothing are the Nascar drivers and they aren’t really athletes, as George Carlin reminded us years ago: they are rednecks driving around in circles.
In any event, golfers resemble so many of the other wealthy athletes living in a shrunken world talking only to others who think as they do, and worried that “the government” is going to take away some of their easy money (witness Phil Mickelson who recently threatened to move out of California because they passed a bill taxing wealthy citizens at a higher rate. Goodness!)
But, while we can only regret that socially aware athletes like Arthur Ashe are no longer around, when all is said and done we really should be thankful for the handful of wealthy athletes who do give some of their money and time to deserving causes — such as children’s hospitals and hurricane relief, for example. It’s remarkable that they rise above the level of awareness that seems to be the norm in the sports world where narcissistic men and women are chasing their dream in the form of a palatial home, expensive cars, and safe investments. But as they would be the first to tell me: it’s their money. Who am I to say what they should do with it?
Hugh, as you have noted, I think we should still applaud those who do give back by teaching their sports. Being a tennis coach as you are, there is a lot to gain by programs like First Tee, etc. When done well, sports can be a great teacher. Yet, you are correct, it would be great if more athletes and celebrities gave back and stood up for causes. As we have noted, as much complaining that is done at the higher tax brackets, they have a pretty sweet deal in this country. The highest marginal tax rate has fallen from 70% to less than 40% and the wealth distribution as noted in http://www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com is quite extreme for the gated community crowd. That is why Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Leon Levines (Family Dollar’s founder) of the world get kudos for giving back. Thanks, BTG
I returned home last night, and how great it is to sync back into a normal morning rhythm where your daily posts await the attention they deserve!
regarding this post, near the beginning, there was one jewel of wisdom that prompted me to pause from reading “…the “sin of omission,” the failure to act when an evil is clearly perceived.” and ponder an escalating problem between friends and associates here in ecuador. thank you for that, and maybe those words can help jolt someone back into doing what’s right.
i snickered at your remark about nascar; thanks, i needed that!
you are so right about athletes becoming more responsible for mentoring others. how can we nudge them into realizing that they could play a larger role, and that Life is not just about them?
I was thinking of you when I made the comment about Nascar! Welcome back, Z.
Thanks for the second chuckle! I suspected when I read that, that you knew I’d appreciate it, and I did. I also suspect there are other nuggets waiting for my attention! I’m shoulder deep in photos regarding this ‘business’ trip that I took – helping friends in a bit of a bind regarding that social conscience!
I’m amazed you can do as much online as you do. Truly remarkable!
I used to be a big fan of golf, back when Byron Nelson still played a little (Now that should really age me) Palmer was king, and Nicklaus was just a blonde kid whom everyone disliked because he was chasing Palmer’s records.
I know very little about today’s golfers. They’ve all become interchangeable faces to me, one machine marching after another. No Personality, no joy. Tiger has a reputation for having deep pockets and short arms (Remember when they used to say that about Sam Snead?), Mickelson lost all my respect for his stupid tax remarks, and the rest are faceless to me.
I do remember that Palmer was very generous, buying his home course in Latrobe, PA when it was faced with closure and keeping many in jobs, being a huge contributor to the hospitals, and giving generously of his time at clinics and fund raisers.
But your point as to the isolation of the wealthy is an excellent one, and like your last post on the topic, one with which I heartily agree. We are becoming cold and isolated as a race, unable, unwilling to reach out and help our fellow man. As wealth becomes more concentrated in the few, it is flowing less and less, to a bare trickle, to those in need.
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