The nature of professional sports

At last night’s Minnesota United FC game I had a few thoughts about the nature of sports, and specifically professional sports in our country. As I looked around the pitch at the various players it struck me at how much of a divide there is between what we consider elite athletes and other professional players.

Most of the guys on the pitch last night are not earning superstar salaries. Most NASL players earn only a modest living off of their playing, somewhere between $15,000-100,000 with most earning less than $40,000 (see: http://work.chron.com/pay-pro-soccer-player-19273.html). That means for most of these individuals, they are not getting rich for playing a game that they love and dedicate so much time to. Yet if you step up to the next league in the chain, Major League Soccer, there are players making millions of dollars. The same is true of just about every other professional league, hockey, baseball, football, etc., that is not considered the top league in their sport.

It seems like we have this notion in our society that professional sport is only worth watching or playing if you can make it to the highest levels. We put a higher value on cities that have major league teams, and even more value on them if they have major league teams from as many of the top sports as possible. Yet, last night I saw a couple dozen guys playing their heart out for a game that they love, trying to win and represent their team as best as they could. Many of them probably have to work other jobs in the off-season, much like Olympic athletes, but they keep at it, because they love what they do and are skilled enough to get paid something to do it.

In a couple years, we’ll be joining that Major League status when we move up to MLS. There is something to be said however for teams that come out and play for no other reason than to try and win, no matter the size of the crowd in the stands, or the paycheck at the end of the day.