All About the Cash

In this social media age sometimes Adam Smith seems like an anachronism. Greece, bailouts, 16 ounce soda bans, so much muddies the airwaves. But in the end, its always about the free market.

I have been speaking about golf recently, and how those players and that game lives in a culture where the rules are the rules. Just yesterday when the Tom Brady news came out, Jordan Spieth was giving his news conference for this week's Tournament.

He told a story about when he was a kid playing in Texas at a junior tourney. He got upset and threw his putter to the ground. It bent, but he played the last several holes with the putter, and made a few birdies, to win. He told his dad the story on the way home and his dad knew the rule - you can't play with a bent or broken club. They went in the next morning, told the tourney director what happened and young Jordan disqualified himself.

Compared to the news we see in sports in general of late, Brady clearly deflating a football and running to a lawyer, cyclists taking every advantage until getting a Travis Tygart smackdown, a steroid-filled baseball player running to their favorite labor lawyer to let them "earn a living", a horse trainer getting caught with a buzzer and a trunk full of tubes and professing it was planted, it seems like a good, and opposite parallel. Golf's culture 1, everything else zero.

But, I think we need to go back to Adam Smith. It's all about the money.

Golfers like Phil Mickelson make upwards of $50 million a year. Part of that is endorsement money, where integrity for the game means just about everything. In golf, if you cheat, it follows you forever and can cost you millions. Just ask Vijay Singh, who to this day has the specter of cheating following him with whatever he does, due to an incident 30 years ago. In golf, cheating means something.

It used to be like this in football. In the 1970's if you got caught "sullying the game" and you didn't come clean, you'd be blackballed and might not get a job. Pete Rozelle used to simply say "you cheated and you have to admit it because the game is not bigger than you" and the player would admit what he did. Simple. Money.

Today, at times, this integrity rears its head. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin took his medicine for an on-field infraction just two years ago.  We might argue that's about money too (his bosses think it made the organization look bad).  Regardless, for the most part, it's now about running to the lawyers, because players know i) I can "get off" and ii) I won't be blackballed, i.e. it won't cost me any money. 

In horse racing this is not dissimilar. "Ruining the integrity of the game" is a line we hear often as a charge. What a load. Any lawyer in this litigious society can crunch an accuser on that one. And in horse racing, when a guy like that comes back from that charge, he gets a barn full of horses. If you aren't cheating you aren't trying. It's all about money.

It'd be nice if the culture of sports were about what sports is supposed to be about - integrity, the spirit of competition, beating or losing to one another on a level paying field. I guess golf is the closest of all the sports. But, sports really is not about that. In the end doing the right thing means how will doing the right thing affect my barn earnings, my paycheck, my endorsements, TV deals, and the like. Although Adam Smith has taken a backseat in the news of late, his spirit lives on, and will probably live forever.


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