This past July, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and his wife Maddie welcomed twin baby girls into the world. For this momentous life event (twins for the Twins catcher, wow!), Joe, as prescribed by MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, was given three days of paid paternity leave. But Mauer, already showing signs that he will be a good father, took an extra two days off to be with Maddie until the kids were released from the hospital. Unfortunately, as these two days were an add-on to the maximum of three, Mauer had to sacrifice two days-worth of salary for this additional family time. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, this cost Mauer $251,366.12, or $125,683.06 a day. Yes, Mauer is a six-time All-Star, three-time batting champ and the 2009 AL MVP, but $125,000 a day is unbelievable; it is a ridiculous amount, more than most people make in a year, and one that most people probably think is unreasonable. However, Mauer’s sky-high yearly salary is only a caveat of the monstrous economic evil of pro sports in the United States. While professional sports have been a mainstay of American culture for over 100 years, their growing economic presence in American cities is setting up the potential for gross financial disparity and ignorance.
Today, Detroit is the best example of the paradoxical relationship between professional sports and their fans: they’re “our teams” but we’re “they’re business.” Detroit is bankrupt, with around $18 billion in debt, and, according to 2010 Census data, 36.2% of its population of 700,000 is below the federal poverty line. Yet, despite this grim economic and societal situation, the city’s pro sports teams are thriving. The Red Wings are close to finalizing a deal to build a new, publicly financed stadium; the Lions have spent millions on players and team revitalization, and the Tigers were once again on the cusp of making the World Series this year. While many pro sports advocates point to the economic benefits these teams can provide for the city, the reality of this perspective is that most fans are people who drive in from the surrounding suburbs; the amount of people present at Detroit sporting events does not reflect a “revitalization” of downtown, as many will argue.
Some members of Detroit’s sporting teams reflect an even more disturbing outlook on the city’s economic problem: total ignorance. According to the New York Times, “A Lion’s defensive lineman has shrugged off more than $342,000 in fines and missed-game penalties—enough to pay the [yearly] salary of 10 rookie police officers.” Similarly, in response to a question about whether he felt guilty about making three million a year working in an impoverished city, Tiger’s catcher Alex Avila commented that, “We [the Tigers] are definitely aware of the situation of where we play. One thing that motivates us is that we want to be able to bring a championship to Detroit, a place that has longed for one.” Detroit doesn’t need a championship. It needs jobs, homes, a reliable police and fire force, and economic stability.
Detroit’s teams and abhorrent salaries like Joe Mauer’s are only a few examples of the crime of American pro sports. All over the country, taxpayers are paying for stadiums that should be completely financed by billionaire owners; players are signing multimillion- dollar contracts and TV networks are forking over billions to broadcast the biggest games. All of this while the nation and many of its cities are swaying on the brink of economic disaster. As the World Series comes to a close, professional sports, albeit cool cultural icons, continue to wreak economic crimes on America’s cities.