Julian E.J. Sorapuru
It’s commonly said that it takes a crisis to show a person’s true character. Well, if that’s the case, then this whole COVID-19 period has been a pretty damning showcase of the characters of the owners of professional sports teams.
Some seem to be more concerned about whether or not their team’s season will be continued rather than worrying about whether the thousands of people they employ will be able to stay afloat financially during this labor shortage. Furthermore, these owners seem either oblivious or apathetic to the idea that they have the financial means to make a great impact in fighting this pandemic.
Even though professional athletes can no longer literally step up to the plate (or goal, or basket), we’ve seen stars from every sport step up in a big way, figuratively, to combat the effects of COVID-19 in their communities. Atlanta Braves baseball all-star Freddie Freeman has pledged more than $125,000 to different organizations in the Atlanta area fighting the virus. New Orleans Saints star football quarterback Drew Brees is donating $5 million to efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus in Louisiana. Soccer star Lionel Messi and the rest of FC Barcelona’s first-team players are taking 70% pay cuts for the remainder of the coronavirus crisis to help the club pay its employees. Multiple NBA stars like Kevin Love, Zion Williamson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Blake Griffin, and Anthony Davis, to name a few, have also announced their intention to donate to stadium staff so they can continue to be paid their full salaries during this time.
This news warms my heart, and it keeps with a theme seen throughout this outbreak: bringing people together, even as we are being physically forced apart by necessary social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.
However, I find it hard to cope with the fact that it is the players (millionaires in their own right) who are not hesitating to do their part to help the communities which unwaveringly support them, but the owners (who are billionaires) seem to be strapped for cash when it comes to charitable donations. This is about more than just the fact that rich people have money that could help the less fortunate. These sports franchises are ultimately part of the communities in which they play. This is a narrative teams love to play up when they are seeking money for a new stadium and demanding that the community pay for it, else they move somewhere that will. When they put out promo videos of their players doing community service, they tell us that their team is a part of the community, a citizen of the community. Well, responsible citizens help their community; they don’t stand idle with assets that could help while the community struggles and people die.
Owners of these teams happily take the money of working-class fans year after year in order to bankroll a product which entertains them, so when those same fans are calling out for help in a time of crisis, why’s it so hard to give a fraction of that money back if it will save lives and ease suffering?
This is not to say every professional sports franchise and their owners are doing nothing, because that’s not true. Gayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, for example, will be donating $1 million to help those impacted by the coronavirus in the greater New Orleans area. The Dallas Mavericks and its owner, Mark Cuban, announced that they were not only going to pay their employees, but would reimburse them for breakfast and lunch bought at local Dallas eateries, helping to sustain their employees and local businesses simultaneously. Following the announcements from athletes about their donation plans, many teams are now committing to paying their staff what they were meant to make, either temporarily or through the rest of the season.
But it shouldn’t have taken players mobilizing their wealth and influence for owners to recognize the right thing to do. A multi-billion dollar business should not need to be shamed into taking care of its employees in times of need; One-percenters, similarly, should not need to feel pressured into being generous with their wealth. Instead, they should do so because they recognize their privilege and feel that it’s the morally right thing to do to remain loyal to the employees who they would not have their immense wealth without.
Although the coronavirus may cause many shortages, a shortage of empathy is not one we can afford.