A professional baseball game was recently played in an empty stadium, as the home team was concerned about player and spectator safety due to civil unrest taking place just beyond the foul poles. Following the game, reaction from the participants included the adjectives "eerie," "weird" and "different."
Let me add one of my own: "Brilliant!"
No disrespect to Baltimore Orioles fans who, on April 29, were cheated out of watching their team stomp the visiting Chicago White Sox 8-2 during the Freddie Gray protests, but maybe athletics without spectators is exactly what the sporting world needs right now. At all levels.
Let's start with professional boxing. I, along with some friends, recently watched what HBO and Showtime labeled "the fight of the century." Actually, for the first three hours, we viewed not a fight but a steady stream of celebrities enter a Las Vegas arena. Then, for 36 minutes, we watched Floyd "Money" Mayweather dance around the ring while mugging for the fans, eventually retaining a "belt" that wouldn't fit through the loops of any pair of men's pants. By round three, even New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looked bored and he had a ringside seat.
But imagine if the nearly 17,000-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena was empty when Mayweather and his entourage arrived. No Jay Z and Diddy in their designer suits. No Justin Bieber in his Calvin Klein underwear. The $1,500 "nosebleed" seats? Empty. The only bodies in the entire arena would be a referee, a bunch of guys who get paid to empty buckets of spit and Manny Pacquiao, waiting to punch Mayweather in the face as often as possible. Using his one good arm.
Friends, THAT pay-per-view party would be at my house. I'll buy the fight, you bring the chicken wings. I'll even pay extra to hear the post-fight press conference and maybe, just maybe, some contrition from a guy who, according to criminal complaints, hits women as well as other boxers yet still earned about $5 million a minute against Pacquiao.
Reporter: So Floyd, where are you headed now? Disco? Strip club? Meeting with a reality show producer?
Mayweather: Uh, no man. I think I'll just go home and play with my kids.
Reporter: But surely you'll demand a higher payday for your next fight?
Mayweather: No, I'm fine with my current salary. Yeah, nobody acknowledged me during the fight, but nobody acknowledges those guys who spend 10 hours a day paving highways, driving garbage trucks and installing cable. God bless 'em all.
Now let's head over to the NFL draft, held at a Chicago auditorium featuring Commissioner Roger Goodell and nobody else. No diehard fans anointing a (maybe) college graduate as their team's next lord and savior; no ESPN blowhards asserting the player is "worth the millions he's gonna get paid" and will turn his team into "an immediate Super Bowl contender." All that awaits the player is a jersey and a playbook from his new team affixed with a post-it note from the head coach and a single sentence: "Rookie, memorize this ... or else!"
The lack of hoopla might be enough to make overall number one pick Jameis Winston realize he's not entitled to free crab legs just because he can repeatedly throw a football through a tire.
Finally, let's go to a local municipal park where a youth sporting event is taking place. Maybe it's Little League baseball, perhaps soccer or lacrosse. Kids frolic on the field, giggling with their teammates and even their foes while coaches shout encouragement. What's missing are the parents sitting in bleachers and lawn chairs, enraged at the calls that aren't going their child's way and letting the referee know exactly how they feel. When the game's over, the teams shake hands and the participants head to the parking lot where a line of mini-vans awaits. The parents didn't see the game, hence the lack of "How come Emily's getting more playing time than you?" and "I know more about soccer than your coach, and I've never even played soccer" discussions.
You can't put a price tag on silence.
2015 GREG SCHWEM. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.