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Sam Koppelman

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Holding Fans Hostage

Posted: 07/06/11 09:18 PM ET

As I watch Republicans and Democrats fighting over a compromise on raising the debt ceiling, I become filled with rage. No, my face doesn't turn purple, and I don't have steam coming out of my ears, but the inability of adults to work together and sacrifice their own political futures in order to force America to pay its loans burns me up.

Seeing the NBA's owners lock out their players has been equally disappointing. Politicians are elected to serve citizens, and athletes make money by playing sports because fans pay to watch games. And through these lockouts, they are holding fans hostage.

There has been excessive lead up and speculation to the debt-ceiling deadline as well as the lockouts, but in both of these cases, I have persistently (and probably ignorantly) refused to believe that America could really default on its loans, and NBA players and owners wouldn't find a way to compromise for the good of fans.

But now, with NBA players feeling entitled and Republicans arguing to reform entitlements, as America is on the brink of a double-dip recession, I've seen that both my political and athletic heroes put self-interest above the interests of fans.

In politics, it's simple. Politicians want to get re-elected, Republicans want to make sure Obama is not re-elected, democrats want to make sure he does get elected. Republicans want to shrink the government, win control of the Senate, and provide tax breaks to the upper class. Democrats are on the opposite side on almost every issue. So, the fact that they can't compromise is not surprising.

Sports are similar in that there are two sides with opposing viewpoints. The relationship between owners and players in the NFL and NBA is similar to the relationship between Republicans and Democrats. Without players, owners don't have a product. Without owners, players don't make money. And without fans (or votes in politics), nobody makes money.

I think that last point is where there seems to be the biggest disconnect between the greater American population and our leaders. After losing the NBA finals, Lebron James said said that fans have to "get back to the real world at some point" (instead of being happy from his demise). He also talked about how he will "continue to do the things that [he] wants to do [for him and his family]", in spite of losing the championship. This shows how players have forgotten about the importance of fans. If fans really weren't engaged in the outcome of Lebron's games, then Lebron wouldn't be making the millions of dollars he makes every year.

The fact that politicians are holding Americans hostage by threatening to shut down the government also shows they've lost track of how important supporters are. Sure, it's possible that a double dip recession could result in Obama losing the next Election, but Republicans should really be focused on helping Americans get back on their feet.

But where politics and the NBA are the most similar is that, in both disputes, the wrong people are being blamed. In basketball, owners want to institute a "hard-cap", meaning that teams all only have a certain amount of money they are allowed to spend. This is eerily similar to a debt ceiling. Neither a debt ceiling nor a hard-cap would need to be instituted if it weren't for past mistakes by owners and politicians.

Owners gave players ridiculously large contracts, and are now complaining that they are not making money. They took a risk, and their risks didn't pan out. Republicans also took huge chances by spending large sums of money on wars and through the Bush tax cuts. Now, both sports teams and the government want to stop spending money, and are willing to throw fans under the bus to do so.

Obviously, a lockout in one of the major sports leagues is not going to have the potentially catastrophic effects of a government shut down, but for fans, particularly in hard times, sports provides a distraction from the every-day grind. All I'm asking of athletes and politicians is they take a moment to realize how big an effect their rhetoric and actions have on the people who enabled them to be in positions of power.

 

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