You know what I like to do on a beautiful fall day? Sit on a couch and watch other people exercise! Furthermore, I cheer for a bunch of people I'll never meet, representing a team based in a city they didn't grow up in. Heck, I myself haven't lived in that city for many years.
Yep, I'm talking about watching professional football — in my case, cheering for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, since I grew up in nearby Clearwater, Florida. However, at this point, I've spent most of my life living outside of the Tampa Bay area. But that doesn't change the emotional connection I have to a team I watched as a kid, taking the bus from Clearwater Mall to Tampa Stadium to watch Lee Roy Selmon, Doug Williams, Jimmie Giles, and those ‘70s-inspired creamsicle uniforms.
But I don't watch football as much as I used to. I certainly don't get the NFL Sunday Ticket like I used to, which allowed me to watch every and any game I wanted (at a cost of $299.95). With a bunch of kids, I just don't have the time. And, frankly, I feel more and more like it's kind of ridiculous.
I had this thought again as I read about the recent bankruptcy filing of Warren Sapp, the former Tampa Bay defensive tackle and likely future hall of famer. Despite earning (in his estimation) $60 million while playing, and despite current monthly income of $115,881, Sapp has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy due to owing $6.7 million, which includes unpaid child support and alimony. Listed among his assets in the bankruptcy filing: a 58-inch high-definition TV, a boxing glove signed by Muhammad Ali, $560 worth of new Xbox games, and 240 pairs of Nike Air shoes. He once owned an 18,000-square-foot mansion, but not anymore. He also doesn't own the Super Bowl ring he earned with the Bucs, or his University of Miami championship ring. He says he lost them.
For some reason, most people enjoy reading about the financial downfalls of the once-rich and famous. But this one has garnered extra attention in the Tampa Bay area, not only because of Sapp's legacy as a player, but also his legacy as a jerk. He was notoriously rude to fans. As an example, here's what happened to high school coach of the week Mike DePue, who had been invited by the Bucs to watch one of their practices (as reported by the Tampa Tribune in 2003):
According to DePue, he and two of his assistants, Rob Burns and Vaughn Volpi, were at One Buc Place viewing practice from the sideline when Sapp walked to an area near them and “threw a tantrum,” apparently for DePue making eye contact with Sapp.
“I was just looking around in practice and he [Sapp] said to me in a confrontational tone, ‘Do you see what you're looking for?”' DePue said. And as Sapp walked back toward practice, DePue said Sapp used foul language and said he would “give me more [verbal] grief if I looked at him again.”
Bankruptcy couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
Are pro sports worth the cost?
How can a guy like Warren Sapp get paid so much? Because professional football makes so much. According to Forbes, the average NFL team made $261 million during the 2010 season, which is a total of $8.4 billion for the 32 teams. Of course, that money doesn't just grow on turf; we sports fans are footballing the bill, through the jerseys we buy, the games we attend (and $5 hot dogs we eat), the cable fees we pay, and the hours upon hours of beer and car commercials we endure. Yet here are five reasons why devoting so much time and money to professional sports may not be worth the investment.
1. We should be exercising instead of sitting on our butts and watching other people sweat.
Many writers would now trot out all the statistics about how we're getting larger and lazier, except that trotting would exhaust them. Plus, you already know about the couch-potato crisis. As for me, I've managed to get more in shape, and the health and psychological benefits are far more rewarding than spending three hours in front of a TV to watch just 11 minutes of actual playing (which, according to the Wall Street Journal, is the amount of time that isn't spent on commercials and players standing in a huddle).
2. Many professional athletes are horrible with money.
Warren Sapp isn't the only athlete who blew through millions. According to Sports Illustrated, 78% of NFL players and 60% of NBA players are bankrupt within two years of leaving the game. I can't help but feel that spending money on professional sports is a misallocation of capital.
3. Sports can bring out the worst in people.
Sports participants and spectators can get pretty ugly. In February, 79 people died during a soccer riot in Egypt. It generally doesn't get that bad here in the U.S., but fans can still get pretty ugly. A few years ago, the Bucs were in town to play the Washington Redskins (I now live in the D.C. area), and I took my then-12-year-old daughter to the game. She was all excited, painting her face and everything. But as the game progressed, and the fans drank more, they became more and more obnoxious to those of us who were rooting for the other team. One guy yelled to my daughter, “Hey, little girl — come over here and I'll paint your face.” That was $200 well spent.
4. It's silly to care so much.
Back in the day, a poor performance by the Bucs could ruin my Sunday evening (and if you know the history of the Bucs, you know that was a lot of Sundays). Then, a few years back, they blew a huge lead and lost in overtime. I couldn't sleep. My wife turned to me at 3 a.m. and said, “You need to emotionally disassociate yourself from football.” It was the wisdom I needed to hear.
5. Is one season really that different from last season?
I'm not much of a basketball fan, and when the folks in my office gather around a TV during March Madness, I'll walk up and say, “Look, a guy threw a ball through a hoop! Oh, look — it happened again! Wow, there it is again!” But football isn't really that different. The truly unique plays could be summarized in a five-minute highlight video at the end of the season.
Football, I wish I knew how to quit you
Despite all the reasons why it doesn't quite make sense to expend resources on professional sports, I can't help but spend an hour or two each week watching football. Even in the offseason, I'll occasionally flip to the NFL Network. I watched football growing up, and I played it growing up (as evidenced the by the accompanying black-and-white picture — back when I played football, colors had not yet been invented). I guess it's an addiction, or something. Right now at my desk, I have an autographed picture of Lee Roy Selmon and several old football cards. (Who remembers that Vinny Testaverde began his career in Tampa?) But slowly, I'm recovering from my addiction, and not devoting so much time and money to it. Warren Sapp will have to find someone else to pay for his shoes.
Cheesy self-interested (sorta) addendum: Want to support the young, creative innovators of tomorrow? Today's your lucky day! My son's fifth-grade Odyssey of the Mind team has made it to the World Finals, where they'll compete against kids from more than 25 countries. The team is in the process of raising $9,000 for the trip. If you'd like to contribute, send a check, made out to Stratford Landing PTA (with OM noted on the check), to Stratford Landing PTA, attn: Terri Bell (OM), 8484 Riverside Road, Alexandria, VA 22308. All donations are tax-deductible! And if you know of great places to visit as we drive from Virginia to Iowa, please let me know!