Sports popularity ignores societal issues

By Alex Cocanig, Columnist

Professional and college sports have taken American society by storm and fans have become increasingly more attentive to their teams, especially when they perform well and win their ways into playoffs or championships. After this happens on more than one occasion in a few years, teams attract a large amount of bandwagon fans who wouldn’t otherwise be interested if it weren’t for the momentum and popularity surrounding a specific club. This phenomenon is illustrated quite well by the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team.

Attendance at Hawks home games in the 2006-2007 season reached a low point, averaging only 12,727 people per game, whereas that number has nearly doubled since the Cup-winning 2014-2015 season. The organization currently leads the NHL in home game attendance. Perhaps this per game attendance doesn’t seem as significant as it sounds, but the 2012-2013 season’s Stanley Cup victory parade in Chicago brought an estimated 2 million fans into the streets of the city to see their favorite team.

Two million is a lot of people to assemble for anything, especially a sports team whose main function to fans is to provide entertainment and win games. Much like the millions of people who tune into certain national television programs, the sports-entertainment industry has captured an overwhelming amount of our attention, so much so that perhaps it distracts us from many of life’s more imperative realities off the ice or outside the stadium.

One of these realities is the managing of our very own society, and the people we elect to undertake that task. While the Chicago Blackhawks attracted over 2 million fans for their celebration in 2013, turnout in the recent March primary election was less than half that of the parade — slightly more than 800,000 voters in Chicago proper.

The disparity of voters in comparison to sports fans is alarmingly large. The numbers clearly illustrate more participation celebrating the amount of games won and goals scored as opposed to who should potentially be the next president of the United States. The next president obviously being a more significant function of democracy and ultimately having very real implications to our society.

In addition to the increasing popularity of sporting events and teams, revenues for those industries similarly rise in the form of ticket prices, advertising as well as the salaries of players and accompanying members of the organization. Winger and crowd-favorite Blackhawk, Patrick Kane takes home over $10 million annually, while pitcher Jon Lester of the Chicago Cubs nearly doubles Kane’s salary.

These astronomical sports salaries are not as far removed from our lives on campus as one would think. Although campus athletes themselves are not paid, the University recently hired ex-Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith to head the football team in hopes of reviving it. Smith will be paid a starting salary of 2 million dollars that will increase by 1 million annually, plus additional bonuses.

The amount of attention and money vested in professional and college sports is significant enough to question what more momentous and realistic purposes it could serve. While millions of fans remain transfixed watching their teams try to outscore each other in athletic contests, some of our country’s most pressing social, economic and political issues remain unchanged and ignored in lieu of sports.

Though they are not mutually exclusive, imagine the attention we could call to issues like corruption and social injustices if we assembled 2 million people outside city hall, the state capitol or the White House with the same fiery passion they had when their favorite team wins a championship.

Similarly, if the government or even charity had millions more dollars of funding akin to a small fraction of the astronomical salaries and revenues made from sports, it could be spent on much more beneficial things like improving education, enhancing public services or creating jobs; things that many people in our very own communities actually need.

It is likely and more so troubling that our money and attention will continue to be paid watching grossly overpaid athletes duke it out in sports contests in huge stadiums or on television while members of communities those very teams represent, sometimes situated right outside the stadiums, fall victim to ravaging violence and perpetual poverty.

Alex is a senior in LAS.

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