Players: A book review by Bob Morris

PlayersPlayers: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution
Matthew Futterman
Simon & Schuster (2016)

Greed corrupts…and absolute greed corrupts absolutely.

Long ago, I realized that the correct answer to most questions about professional sports is “Money.” If the questions are about the Dallas Cowboys, the correct answer is almost certainly “More money.” We also have multi-millionaires now competing in the Summer and Winter Olympics as well as in events sponsored by the so-called Amateur Athletic Union. How did all this happen?

Opinions are divided, of course. Matthew Futterman suggests in Players that much (if not most) of the game, “Playing/Coaching or Managing/Owning/Whatever for Dollars,” can be traced back to Arnold Palmer’s decision to replace Wilson Sporting Goods with Mark McCormack (1930-2003), an attorney in Cleveland, whose firm – the International Management Group, founded in 1960 – eventually became the most influential force in the scheduling, production, and telecasting of professional sports events in the world.

Early on, IMG also had superstars such as Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player in golf; Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, and Pete Sampras in tennis; and stars in other sports such as Jean-Claude Killy (downhill racing), figure skating (Scott Hamilton), and Formula 1 racing (Jackie Stewart) as well as entertainment and politics under contract who participated in various IMG events. IMG also distributes over 32,000 hours of content—originating from more than 200 clients and events—to major global broadcasters annually, across all forms of media including TV, audio, fixed media, inflight and closed circuit, broadband and mobile.

Moreover, IMG Academy is a private educational institution located in Bradenton, Florida, and specializing in sports training. The boarding school offers an Academy program for Pre-K/Elementary, Middle & High School, and Postgraduates, as well as a year-round camp program. The 500-acre campus also serves as the training and competition venue for amateur and professional teams, the host site for a variety of events, and a hub for sports performance research and innovation. Sport programs include baseball, golf, soccer, tennis, basketball, football, lacrosse, and track & field and cross-country. IMG became and remains the sports world equivalent of a kennel/veterinary clinic/taxidermist.

“Money in sports isn’t, on its own, a bad thing. But when money becomes the motivating goal and main purpose in sports, that is a bad thing. It’s bad for a player whose sneaker contract is more important than his team’s win total, and that’s bad for an owner or a league whose teams become little more than a commodity to be traded for a big-pay television contract.”

I agree with Matthew Futterman that money is not inherently evil but the fact remains that so much of the professional sports world and even portions of the so-called “amateur” sports world has been corrupted and I do not see how the sources of corruption can be diminished (much less eliminated), given the financial implications.

Although there is no mention of Lou Holtz in this book, he deserves to be included in a discussion of corrupting influences. It is hardly a coincidence that he left every program he coached at just before they were hit with NCAA probation. NC State, Minnesota, Arkansas, Notre Dame, and South Carolina were all found to have violated NCAA rules while under his leadership. Holtz was also overseeing the Notre Dame Football team when they were caught distributing steroids in the locker room during the late 80’s and early 90’s. The NCAA allowed the Irish to handle the matter internally, but there is no way Holtz was unaware of all that was going on with that program and others for which he was also responsible.

Why have so many serious problems in “big time sports” become even worse? Let me guess….

Posted in

Leave a Comment