Bryce On Sports: What happened to sports as we once knew it?

It’s not much of a secret that attendance and viewership of American sports has plunged over the last couple of years. Some pin the blame solely on the CIVID-19 scare, but I believe it goes well beyond this.

First, let’s consider how bad it is getting. For example, in Major League Baseball (MLB), viewership of the World Series dropped from a high of 44.2 million people in 1978 to just 9.8 million in 2020. NFL attendance dropped to a dismal 1.2 million people in 2020 primarily due to COVID-19, but the league doesn’t want you to know it had been steadily dropping since 2016 when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee. The NBA, NHL, and PGA have also declined due to COVID-19, but the NHL appears to be more resilient. Even NASCAR numbers have slipped as people complain of too many races.

This downward trend goes beyond just COVID-19, it reflects a change in politics and the inherent properties of the games themselves.

As to COVID-19, I suffered through a Spring Training MLB game this year with face-masks and social distancing. Ushers were trained in Gestapo techniques to make sure everyone conformed to the rules. They were so obnoxious, I have no intention of returning anytime soon. I am not alone as I have heard from many fans who claim they would rather watch games from years ago on YouTube! than visit the local stadium. What a shame.

The second problem is how politics have crept into sports. Players no longer stand for the national anthem, much to the delight of the lunatic left. I find it odd that many players are doing this as this country provided for their livelihood. Years ago, we treated athletes as heroes, people to be emulated. Now, they are generally regarded as overpaid thugs who shouldn’t be taken seriously. What a pity. As to the political beliefs of the players, they’re just as credible as those of Hollywood entertainers, which is certainly not impressive. In other words, just play your game and let others provide for more competent political analysis.

The third problem is changing the fundamental rules of the game. For example, in MLB, games in a doubleheader went from nine innings to seven. There are other changes MLB is experimenting with in the minors, such as larger bases (from 15″ to 18″), “Step Off” rules for the pitcher, even an automated ball-strike system (ABS), aka “Robo-umpires,” and more. All sports are considering rule changes and expanding schedules, all ultimately aimed at the greed of the leagues.

To me, these changes to the game are analogous to Scots whiskey. Whereas for centuries we enjoyed the fundamental flavor of the whiskey, today they have added other flavors to it, such as cinnamon and peanut butter (believe it or not), all because today’s young people have palates trained for soft drinks and not pure whiskey. In other words, we can no longer enjoy the simplicity of sports. To illustrate, I enjoy watching baseball runs being manufactured through craftsmanship, e.g., a bunt to get on base, a base runner creating a diversion by forcing the pitcher to throw at him, in turn, the pitcher gets rattled and walks the batter, a double steal, and finally a single scores two runs. It’s fascinating to watch, but now considered passe. Instead, the fans want more Home Runs, but end up with more strike outs.

What we are witnessing is a fundamental change in the culture of athletics. We have gone from the simple pleasure of playing a game, to organized sports, to a money-making business based more on entertainment than athleticism, to an influential political power broker. Athletes used to be valued members of the community. The concept of playing for a single team for an entire career has been replaced by groups of journeymen moving from town to town. No wonder communities no longer embrace the players, nor do the players care where they play. Loyalties and allegiances are now considered something from our distant past. It’s all about the money, for the players, the teams, and the leagues. It’s no longer about the fans.

There was a time when players played for the sheer love of the game. They dressed up before arriving at the stadium, signed autographs, and were paid relatively low wages. It was more about pride than anything else. Today, we have made sports a commodity, as well as its memorabilia (e.g., baseball cards).

Even today’s stadiums are changing the nature of the game. Today, they are designed more for socializing than watching athletics. People sit in air conditioned luxury areas with multiple TV sets, fine food and spirits, and basically hobnob, thereby it becomes a place to be seen as opposed to watching. This influences fan perspective; instead of understanding the intimacies of the game, the fans are dumbing down and relying on television talking-heads to tell them what happened and what it means.

The more the teams raise their rates, the more they take from the fans, thereby hurting the love for the game. Professional sports is no longer for the masses and the common man, it is for the millionaires and billionaires who can afford the exorbitant season ticket prices and luxury boxes. Yes, it has changed radically over the years. There is no longer room in baseball for the likes of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and the rest of the Big Red Machine. It’s a totally different game today where aggressiveness on the base paths has been replaced by number crunching.

The sad fact is we are beyond the point of no return. No matter how the leagues try to sell it, it will never be like it was, and herein lies the true reason why attendance and viewership is down: fans feel betrayed and, as such, no longer care. It would be nice to see a league commissioner fight for the fans as opposed to the teams and players, but I guess this is asking too much.

Quite frankly, they are killing the game.

Keep the Faith!

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