“Sports is where meritocracy exists.”
Ever hear or read those words? Do you believe them? Be wiser not to.
“The only true meritocracy is in sports. Every other field is subject to politics,” wrote one fan in a 2014 blog comment. I’m still laughing.
Let’s be sober and to the point: We know the so-called superstars get more benefits from referees and league officials, in all sports and on all levels. Maybe they are just quicker and more aggressive. Maybe they mesmerize even the refs, gaining favor—few people were going to whistle Patrick Ewing for taking four steps as he headed to the rim. Not when he was the main show at Madison Square Garden for so long.
Off the field of play, the owners and leaders of major sports know where the bread is buttered. They are going to punish a role player more readily than a LeBron James for the exact same action. A history of past transgressions matters, but not as much as an athlete’s overall status. As sports fans, we silently consent to this favoritism, knowing that it is ultimately for our selfish pleasure.
Now, show us where the meritocracy is.
The Golden State Warriors’ mercurial Draymond Green tripped over the league’s tablecloth in the 2016 playoffs. He knocked over the plates and silver, and we marked everything. Just as we notice every missed call in sports because of HD TV and super slo-mo, we see the sausage being made in league offices because everyone is the media now. Everybody talks, information gets out, and the hints that Green wouldn't suffer anything began. The sports opinion industry seemed offended that a piece of the pleasure might be removed from their eyes.
It was clear Green would not be much punished for punting another player’s inseam. Meritocracy can’t survive in that situation, because there is money to be had and social media fanatics to appease.
What is merit? Being worthy of something, whether reward, punishment, or attention. By that definition, it makes sense that the star athlete gets the benefit of the doubt. Because they affect the bottom line and league perception so deeply. They are “worthy” of favor if the overarching goal is profit.
One Fox Sports radio personality has been heard saying there are no conspiracies. This from a man who worships the ultimate conspirators, the degenerates in Las Vegas, and believes that the nation is doing pretty well these days socially and spiritually. His show producers play the “X-Files” theme song, as he eye rolls his way through a mocking rant about anyone who thinks differently.
Simple etymology: The root of conspiracy is “conspire,” or plot. Two parents discussing a child’s Christmas present is a conspiracy. The league plotted to keep the status quo of this season’s record-breaking headliners. They didn’t want to put out M&Ms without any blue ones in the bag. A conspiracy is not always a secret!--though it can be. Keep in mind, this is not written with a spirit of criticism. It just is.
The upgrade to a flagrant 2 (which usually would have cost Draymond Green some game time… except this time) was just an affirmation. Shut the purists up and keep truckin’.
Suspending a vital piece of the Warriors was thought to have greatly influenced the series. Wealthy people, talking heads, and sports fans didn’t want that. The NBA is in the business of pleasing the customer. The rest of the discussion is just fun hot air.
To a man, no one defending the Green high kick to Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams stayed there. The Green defenders all went ahead and admitted at some point, in some manner: “I don’t believe Draymond should be suspended, because it might demonstrably alter the series.” There it is. You are admitting that the brand, the image, the product, matters more than anything.
That is admitting that there are, in fact, conspiracies. Sometimes a conspiracy is right out in the open. You think you see what’s going on, and the lie is hidden inside all of the “transparency.”
Again—that is okay from a business perspective. It’s what a gigantic company does. They worry about the bottom line and, in the end, any rule can be ignored in that pursuit.
But you cannot then argue about how much or little he injured the opponent, nor about Green’s intent “Draymond wouldn’t do that,” we heard, as if industry strangers who may have met him a few times know the heart of the man.
All the discussion of natural basketball moves is irrelevant, when the circus must go on.
In billion-dollar monstrosities like the NFL and the NBA, there are going to be manipulations and scheming. This is obvious but we rarely hear it said straight out. The talking heads will always tell you how muchintegrity is in sports. Hard work, determination, talent, being coachable, teamwork, and to market it, family values of some kind: Well, looks like you’re gonna make it, Junior! They tell you this humility and grit fairy tale just after tsk-tsking all the individual sports scandals. We love ya but we're just gonna dig through your trash when you go to bed... Profit is the mark, not integrity. It’s only natural.
There is too much at stake, too many people with something to lose. It’s the same reason many condemn our political system. The United States is a TRILLION-dollar franchise that may not actually trust entry-level workers like you and me to choose leadership. Who knows? The best part of a well-laid conspiracy is that you believe you are in on it.