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 by Jon Burras
Professional Sports Are Not Very Professional
     From baseball to hockey, basketball to football, there are many professional athletic leagues both in the United States and on international levels. Besides the four major sports there are a host of minor professional sports like golf, tennis and soccer. Each one of these associations have legions of athletes, trainers, media reporters, owners, front-office personnel and a bevy of lawyers.
     We look upon professional sports like we look at other professions. There are player contracts, by-laws, legal arbitration issues and sports agents to represent players. We assume that professional sports are playing by the same rules as other professions. Being involved in a professional sport, either as an athlete or another form of supportive role, comes with it a standard of professionalism that all professions are expected to adhere to.
     That is where we are all wrong. Professional sports seem to have their own set of standards that are far from ethical or professional. What is applied to other professions like teachers or plumbers often does not apply to the world of professional sports. In many cases professional sports are not very professional at all and might as well be considered a high-priced hobby run by renegade chieftains. Anything representing professionalism has long gone out the door just like the two-dollar beer at a baseball stadium. (The average cost of a beer at a major league baseball game is currently around $6.00 for a small pint).
     As of late, we find that many professional athletes have let their personal feelings into their work and have formed protests over social issues. This protest activity has primarily been observed in the realm of the NFL (National Football League) and the NBA (National Basketball Association). While you may or may not agree with the spirit of the cause, taking a personal agenda into the work environment is anything but professional.
     Imagine that you were helpless in the dentist's chair with several tools and hands in your mouth and your dentist was spouting off about his political views which you might disagree with. You are defenseless to speak up but are held hostage by this lack of professionalism. A massage therapist yapping about her political views while you are lying on the massage table trying to relax is acting in an unprofessional manner. After these verbal assaults you might seek out a new dentist or a new massage therapist as their lack of professionalism has carried over into their work environment. Many people have stopped watching professional sports as they are turned off by the lack of professionalism by many of the athletes. Fans will recite to athletes to just do your job and leave your politics at home. That is what a real professional would do.
      When watching a major league baseball game have you ever seen so many grown men spitting? It might be spitting up chewing tobacco, sun flower seeds or just good old saliva, but baseball players are completely unprofessional because of their spitting practices. Television sports directors find themselves pulling their hair out because every time they show a dramatic close-up of a baseball player on camera he quickly spits something out of his mouth and the director must quickly shift to another camera covering another part of the game. Imagine a celebrity talk show host who spit on camera as much as professional baseball players. Who would be left to watch the show? Baseball players are completely unprofessional as they continue to engage in prehistoric behaviors like incessant spitting.
      Disrespect seems to be rampant in the sports world. How often have we seen a player arguing with his coach or players themselves getting into fights on the court or the field? Just do your job. What is even more unprofessional is the lack of respect for the authority of the coach. The coach is not your friend or your brother; he is a figure of authority and ought to be treated that way. How often have you seen a player pat a coach on the back side as a celebration or the proverbial Gatorade bath where a large bucket of sports drink gets poured on top of the coach after a momentous win? This is really lack of respect. A coach who has control over his players and has a professional team would never allow this. This symbolic dunking holds little difference than how the ancient Mayans would behead the captain of the winning handball team. Drenching the coach in Gatorade is like a symbolic beheading of your leader after a victory. Do not call the coach by his first name, drench him in sports drink or pat his behind.
     Other player celebrations hold very little professionalism as well. How often have we seen baseball players receive a pie in the face after hitting the game winner? A celebration at home plate after a "walk off" home run is met by a pounding by your team mates. There have been several occasions where a player has been severely hurt while celebrating at home plate. How professional is that? Even more disturbing is how football players will celebrate after scoring a touchdown. We have seen everything from imitating a dog peeing to sexual pelvic thrusts in such outbursts of unprofessional behavior. It seems that athletes think about themselves as divas and sports franchises as kingdoms that can make up their own rules of professionalism. Apparently many athletes spend more time practicing their touch down celebrations than they do their own athletic craft.
     We see baseball players of late doing a "bat flip" gesture after a home run. This is an arrogant unprofessional sign that gives little respect to your opponent and is symbolic of the fact the you now own them (the other team). Little league baseball players are taught not to throw the bat but major league players never seemed to get that memo. This is no different than a basketball player standing over his opponent after he has dunked on him or a football player doing his egregious celebration dance after sacking the opposing teams' quarterback. This arrogant gesture is an example of un-sportsmanship and is symbolic of dominating your opponent (at least for the time being). Your job is to sack quarterbacks, catch passes, dunk basketballs or run for yardage. The extra fanfare is completely unnecessary and unprofessional. Just do your job. Imagine how silly it would be if a school teacher did a celebration dance every time one of her students passed a test? She is just doing her job.
     Locker room celebrations are even more unprofessional. The current trend among athletes is to interrupt an interview with one of your teammates. This trend is called "video bombing". This would have been taboo in the past. While a player is being interviewed by the media another player will come behind him and somehow disrupt his interview.
     The dousing in champagne is another unprofessional move by athletes. How many reporters have had their suits ruined by over-zealous athletes spraying champagne in every corner of a locker room? I can see how one might celebrate after a championship. But these days teams have premature celebrations just when they make it to the play-offs or win the first round. Whether you never make it to the play-offs or lose in the first or second round, you are still a loser. Only true champions should celebrate. Imagine if a real estate broker jumped atop his desk and sprayed champagne after each home sale. Imagine what it would be like if a plumber celebrated with a six-pack of beer every time he successfully unclogged a toilet or fixed a sprinkler.
     Speaking of locker rooms, there is quite a bit of unprofessional activity that occurs in sports locker rooms. Players are allowed alcohol, loud music and at one time allowed to smoke. Even more disturbing is how non-players like members of the media are allowed into the locker rooms. This now includes women. How many professional companies would allow women to walk around in a men's locker room where men are naked while showering and dressing? This seems like it would be illegal, unethical or just some form of sexual harassment. But professional sports teams somehow make their own laws and allow women to mingle with naked male professional athletes. There is nothing that could be any more unprofessional than this behavior. After all, in the age of equality, why aren't men allowed in the locker rooms of female athletes?
     There is nothing more unprofessional than athletes bringing their children to work. On occasions, especially true in the NBA during play-off times, a professional athlete will be giving a press conference at the end of a contest with his child in his lap or crawling around and grabbing the microphone. Some times the child is such a distraction that no real interview can take place. The media reporters, camera operators, lighting technicians and other staff are present to do a job and are not allowed to bring their children to work. While some might find this behavior cute and adorable it is the utmost in unprofessional behavior. The management does not have the courage to stop this behavior and they too are complicit in unprofessional behavior.
     Most professional sports teams have guaranteed contracts. Some do not. The NFL is one of the leagues without guaranteed contracts. You might be signed to play for three years for a team but little to none of that money is guaranteed. Despite having a contract you might be released from the team. This is completely unprofessional behavior. If you were a salesman and had the same conditions you might be on the edge of your seat every week not knowing if you had a job or not. Someone who had better credentials who might work for less money might be just around the corner waiting to take your job away. How unprofessional is this behavior?.
     Sports are also incredibility unprofessional as they have inundated the fans with a barrage of advertising. You cannot look at a baseball outfield wall or backstop without being overrun by advertisements. There are advertisements on jerseys, stock cars, golf caps, basketball backboards and every little space imaginable. Some sports teams do not even have their team's name on their jersey. Instead their sponsor's name adorns the front of their uniform. If you were to attend an LA Galaxy soccer game you might not recognize who is playing on the field. Instead of "Galaxy" emblazoned on the front of the jersey you will find the name of the sponsor—"Herbalife". One might think that the LA Herbalife are running up and down the soccer field.
     More unprofessionalism and sports occurs with the naming rights of stadiums. You no longer have a generic or city name for a stadium or court. Sponsors pay large amounts of money to be the marquee logo on a building like the Staples Center of Los Angeles or the ATT Arena in San Antonio. To make even more money teams have progressed to a new unprofessional low by naming the stadium with one sponsor and the field or court with another sponsor. This way they can grab the fees for two naming rights.
     A fan watching professional sports either in person or on television is besieged by advertisements in every direction. Maybe this might bring back the heyday of radio where you did not have to look at a sea of billboards when you were trying to enjoy watching a game. Even particular segments of a sports television broadcast have naming rights like the "KIA halftime report" on the TNT network for basketball. When will it end?
     Have you ever seen a press conference after a sports event that did not include a strategically placed sports drink bottle on the podium in front of the athlete or coach along with a back drop behind that included the team's name as well as one of the corporate sponsors?
     Athletes and coaches are required to speak with the press after a contest. How unprofessional is this? While there might be some who enjoy this, most do not. The reason the sports teams require this is because of the death of journalism. In times past, a good journalist could observe a contest and tell a good story about it. Now journalism is interwoven with gossip and so-called journalists need some gossip or a slip up by a coach or athlete to fill in their story. If a journalist can ask a dumb question to incite an emotional response from the coach or athlete then they have good material to write about. An athlete who says the wrong things now becomes the topic of the gossip conversation rather than the game itself.
     Professional sports have dropped deeper into the unprofessional realm with their link to gambling. Many people do not care so much about the contest itself but what really matters is that their team has made the point spread listed on the gambling forms. Statistics and fantasy output far surpass the endeavor on the field. You cannot talk sports anymore without running into the gambling element or the fantasy element where people are more concerned about numbers rather than about victories.
     Professional golf has its own set of unprofessional standards that make one want to shake his head in disbelief that the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) calls itself professional. For instance, golf is a very self-honesty driven sport. If you create a foul or a misstep you are supposed to call yourself on it and give yourself the appropriate amount of stroke punishment. There is not always a tournament official nearby to see everything. However, on several occasions a fan on television notices something unperceivable to the officials on the scene and calls into the PGA office who then notify tournament officials to take the appropriate actions.
     A golfer could barely strike a ball by mistake and nobody notices except the person watching in high-def in slow motion at home. This is like a fan in baseball calling balls and strikes from home or a teacher in a class room having herself videotaped correcting papers so the parents could watch over her for any mistake that she might be making.     For a fan to decide the outcome of a professional golfing match is completely unprofessional.
     Sports uniforms are worn for a reason—to make sure that every one on the same team is dressed alike. Unfortunately athletes only dress in uniforms from the ankles upward. They all are allowed to wear their own shoes that they prefer. You might see red, yellow, white or gold shoes on a professional athlete. This occurs because the shoe industry has such a strong hold on the sports industry. Imagine if a Wall Street banker came to work wearing an expensive Italian suit and still wore his beach sandals as well. You would say that this would be a very unprofessional look. We can say the same thing about athletes and teams as they present a very unprofessional look with their mixed bag of uniform looks.
     Certain grooming practices have long been forgotten about by sports athletes. A five day unshaven look is now common. Other athletes have resorted to the full grown un-manicured beard that looks like they were ship wrecked at sea for the last six months. Others have long straggly hair or dreadlocks hanging out behind them for several feet. One would think that dreadlocks might be a safety issue in professional football. If a player were tackled and thrown down to the ground by another who has a hold of his dreadlocks, someone could die of a broken neck. To date, this is perfectly legal. It might be legal but the long hair sticking out of one's helmet is certainly not very professional. Athletes may not realize that they are public figures being watch by millions on television. The unkempt look makes viewers want to turn the channel to watch the cooking channel instead.
     As well as the scruffy athlete syndrome we find a plethora of athletes who have plastered their bodies with tattoos from head to toe. While the athlete might take pride in his body art the observer has a difficult time viewing these pictographs, especially the ones on the neck and face. One might begin to wonder, "What were you thinking?" How many professions could get away with gainful employment with such a look? We have seen some athletes wearing their gold chains or large earrings while competing. This too is a very dangerous and unprofessional behavior. Being tackled around the neck by your gold chain might decapitate you.
     There are rules and then there are rules. For instance, in baseball it is illegal to use any substance to help a pitcher grab the ball better. Yet nearly every major league baseball pitcher has a tiny amount of pine tar lodged below the bill of his cap or behind his belt buckle. He grabs at this stash after each pitch to help him with his grip on the ball. In fact, most catchers have the same thing behind their shin guards. While everyone knows this occurs, the umpires only call foul play if it is obvious to the common fan. We would not want the fan at home to realize that there is actual cheating going on.
     Have you ever been as baffled as me as to why nearly every professional football quarterback licks his fingers before each play? While hospital and emergency personnel wear latex gloves and are overly concerned with blood and other bodily fluids getting on them, professional athletes are a smorgasbord of shared bodily fluids. From the sweat and blood of boxers and MMA fighters mixing on each other to the shared blood patches of football players smearing on their opponent, it seems like professional sports has little concern with this issue. One could say in the era of transmitted diseases like HIV, hepatitis or AIDS that there is a very unprofessional attitude taking place.
     There are certain unprofessional standards that occur in several major league sports in regard to rookies. Hazing is legal and accepted as normal. You might see a rookie in training camp having to sit in a tub full of cold ice water for fifteen minutes or being duck taped to a goal post. Carrying the equipment of the veterans is also not uncommon. Imagine if this happened in other professional work environments where a new business executive were duck taped to his chair for the day. Would not the police be called and a crime investigated? Somehow professional sports teams are allowed to get away with this.
     We also see the sexualization of sport. Scantily clad female cheerleaders stand on the sidelines of games. Model-like female reporters are called in to interview coaches at key elements in the game. Sports networks blend sexualized themes into their sports to enhance viewership. This is just another example of unprofessionalism in sports.
     Finally we see that not all stadiums are the same. For instance, in baseball each major league stadium has different dimensions. Some are longer in the outfield than others. Some have peculiar shapes and sizes. One would think that a professional sport would want its playing surface to be uniform no matter which city the team were playing in.
     No, professional sports are not very professional at all. They make up rules and create agendas that other professional businesses would not be allowed to get away with. They break societal laws, create their own ethics and have their own standards. Until professional sports come to terms with the standards that other professions must exhibit it would be hard to call them professional.