Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh, How Pro Sports Have Changed!

You've heard about the latest mega-dollar contract in Major League Baseball: the Yankees giving pitcher C. C. Sabbathia a $161 million deal . . . and, during a recession, at that! Fortunately, for the rest of baseball, the biggest bankroll doesn't always profit with a championship (when did the Yankees last win a World Series?).

A story told in Tom Callahan's biography of NFL legend helps to illustrate how much professional sports have changed over the past 50 years. The story is found on page 47 of Johnny U: The Lie & Times of Johnny Unitas (pub., 2006). Callahan quotes Unitas relating the story to Steve Sabol of NFL Films.

Unitas describing his first day in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room in the 1955 off-season (yes, Unitas was a Steeler before he was a Colt!).:

I asked the guy, "Where are the whites?"--you know, the T-shirt and the athletic supporter and the socks, the undergarments you put on before your pads. He said, "Oh, right over there on the floor." I said, "On the floor?" He said, "Yeah, over there."

Here was this big pile of socks and athletic supporters and T-shirts. You rooted around in there until you found what you wanted. And I said, "This is professional football?" "It's the way we do it"

We went out and practiced and came back in. So, I just figured you took off your whites and threw them in a laundry hamper. "No, no, you hang them up on a hanger and we turn a big fan on to dry them up for the afternoon's practice."

How times have changed! Most professional sports' locker rooms are luxurious spas compared to what Unitas and his contemporaries endured. In fact, as I firs read Unitas's story, my mind went back to the small, cramped locker room me and my 7th grade Eagles' teammates used at Lubbock Christian School. That smell could knock you out!

This past weekend, the Dallas Cowboys held an auction of items from Texas Stadium, which will host its final game on December 21. One of the items put up for sale was a urinal from the Dallas Cowboys' locker room. The winning bid? $500! Can you believe that? And, that, in a recession!!!

I love professional sports, and am a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Cardinals (baseball). I have a few memorabilia items blazoned with the teams' logos. I even shelled out $50 to watch the Cardinals play against the Houston Astros this past summer. But, the money thrown at professional sports in our country highlights some misplaced priorities in our society. Of course, to be fair, and to keep a proper perspective, the inflation in sports is outdone by many other excesses. For instance, Americans spent more on M&Ms last year than they did on tickets to professional sporting events. And, Oprah Winfrey made more last year than the entire lineups of the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Boston Red Sox combined, together with half of the other teams in the National League!

Am I trying to make a point with this post? Not really. But, I can't believe anyone on their right mind would spend $500 for a urinal, even one "marked" by Tony Romo and Troy Aikman. I'm a fan, but that's a fanatic . . . a fanatic in need of therapy.