Don’t you like to be good at something? Maybe you already are good at something, I’m not in your shoes so I can’t understand your view, but I know I like to be good at something.  When I was young and playing little league baseball, I wanted to be a catcher in the MLB.  But as you can see as you’re reading this article, I didn’t end up becoming a catcher for the New York Mets.  Why wouldn’t you want to be a sports athlete? It seems like it is the best job in the world, and the rewards are spectacular — both financially and socially.  There is still one question that is asked so numerously that it makes my ears numb: why do athletes get paid so much? The answer to such a question is not so simple and many factors play a role in such a process.

 

Firstly, I think there’s a question that many people forget to ask when they are discussing a topic like th is: what is an athlete? The word athlete actually comes from the greek word athlos which means contest.  From the beginning of mankind, sports have been popular throughout various societies.  Performing incredible acts of skill and pushing their bodies to their physical limits, these athletes of ancient times were always trying to push boundaries — like my man Polydamas who killed a lion with his bare hands.  Similar to ancient athletes, today’s modern athletes are trying to push the limits on what is the impossible; which brings us to one of the first factors of why athletes receive lucrative pay: remarkable skill.  Now whether or not you think sports bring social benefits to a society, being a professional athlete is extremely demanding job.  It’s also a very tough job.  It requires constant practice and full throttle determination to become a star athlete.  Our admiration for these entertaining acts of skill also fuel athletes to try to be the best in their sport.  It shouldn’t be a surprise to know that lucrative wages come with the star status that these athletes receive when they reach such heights.

 

Even though I admire these athletes and their skills, the question of their pay always made me wonder about the underlying foundations of professional sports.  As we peel the onion of professional sports, we get to see one of the other major factors of lucrative athlete pay: government intervention.  If there’s one relationship that is strong and compact it has to be the relationship between professional sports and the state.  It is well known that this relationship is analogous with the cronyism that we libertarians despise the most.  As a huge sports fan, this deeply angers me; I love my sports teams, but I don’t want the tax payers paying for their operations.  One example of this bitter relationship is the huge amount of subsides — federal, state, and local — that these sports teams receive; this spigot drowns these professional teams with money that comes right from the pockets of the taxpayer.  Finding a stadium that is built only by private money is an extreme rarity today. From 1909-2012, a whopping 61 percent of stadiums were publicly financed.  In a Keynesian fashion, the supporters of these subsidies claim that the stadiums bring in more jobs, create better economies and stimulate economic growth.

 

The problem with this theory is that the supporter doesn’t realize the subsidies are financed by everyone else, which means that money that is diverted to these subsidies could easily go somewhere else in the economy.  To say that this subsidy ignites a growth of economic activity is not looking at the cost of such an action; the more the government subsidizes, the more it is going to need to extract from the populace (which means more taxes and borrowing etc, this is especially true for state and local governments since they don’t have the power to print money like the federal government).  If there is anything that governments are good at, it is spending money (or should I say wasting money) and running up tabs.  All of the debt that is accumulated and all the political schemes that these politicians plan isn’t paid for by their money; it’s your money that is paying for it.  So the likely hood of this money being well spent is like betting on a turtle to win the Kentucky Derby.  It turns out that such subsidies don’t produce any net benefits.  According to a study done by The Heartland Institute — which took 30 years of empirical data (1958-1987) from 46 cities across the country concluded:

 

“For many, professional sports events are the transcendent experience in  contemporary western culture.  Sports is filled with myths-wonderful stories of heroic performances and courage under pressure.  But increased government subsidies to sports teams and stadiums appear to have spawned an economic myth that the presence of sports teams and new sports stadiums and arenas has a significant effect on an area’s economic growth. This study and others found no factual basis for this claim.  The author’s examination of economic data related to sports and real income growth provides no support for the conventional argument  that professional sports stadiums and teams have a significant impact on an area’s economic growth.”  [emphasis not mine]

 

Now I’m not saying that stadium subsidies and other government goodies are the main factor of lucrative athlete pay; it most definitely plays some role, but it’s not the leading role.  Professional sports remain one of the biggest forms of entertainment throughout the world.  We admire such individuals for their skills and the insane risks that these people put their mind and bodies through.  Professional sports truly capture the imaginations of people; it also captures the pocket book of our governments unfortunately.  As much as I love watching professional sports, I truly despise the corporate pork that the governments feed these sports teams.  It takes little common sense to realize why governments try to lure professional sport teams to their cities and states: political ammunition.  I’m no fan of welfare for sports or anything for that matter.  So to conclude the analysis,  some of the underlying factors of high paying profits are remarkable skill and government subsidies.  If these teams that have acquired there stadiums through a private means instead of a public means, the costs of such projects would fall directly to the business owners and the organization that wishes to build the stadium.  That means all of the money that would be going to star athletes would most likely be going to the costs of the stadiums — which includes the maintenance, paying back the debt, etc.  It is certainly possible to have sports without the government subsidizing their operations; sports would certainly still exist and so would the lucrative pay but not at the inflated rates that we see today.  I surely love professional athletes and the sports that they play, but the subsidies and all the other government goodies — such as eminent domain — make me sick to my stomach.  My feelings are analogous with the saying, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”  In this case, its’s the players and owners who are the players of the game that the government sets up.  Sure, maybe the sports teams could have the upper hand depending on the situation, but it is the government that has opened the pandora’s box of subsidies that have plaque the professional sports teams and the vicinities that they exist in.  The government is the source of the problem which clearly means the solution resides within the government.  It is time for the government to blow the whistle and end the foolish game that it continues to play.