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Baseball players don’t owe us a damn thing

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If the owners can’t assure health and safety of the players without fair compensation, then maybe there shouldn’t be baseball at all.

2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Sports represent a lot of things to a lot of people. They represent normalcy. They represent nostalgia. They represent an escape from the trials of the real world for the few of us who are privileged enough to have that escape. The existence of sports also means a lot of money to a lot of people, which is why it should not be surprising that billionaires across the country have been meeting over the last couple of weeks to figure out how they can bring our beloved sports back.

Major League Baseball has been at the forefront of this conversation after owners approved a plan on Monday that would possibly see an 82-game season start at the beginning of July. That all hinges, of course, on the Players’ Association approving this plan. This plan reportedly includes an economic proposal that will include revenue sharing if the games were required to be played without fans, which will almost assuredly be the case. This is in contrast to an agreement between the two sides back in March that would see the players earn a pro-rated salary for a shortened season. Many people much smarter than me have broken this down over the last couple of days, but a revenue sharing agreement is essentially implementing a salary cap which has been a non-starter for the union forever. There is also a high possibility that it would mean the players take even more of a pay cut than they already would have in this shortened season. The first meeting between the owners and the Players’ Association was set for Tuesday afternoon and ended without an economic proposal from the owners, so we’ll see how things go over the coming days.

But that’s not what I am here to write about. I’m here to write about the sentiment shared by a lot of sports fans around the country, which was put on display by JB Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, on Tuesday:

Hoo boy. That’s a lot to unpack. As you can see, there are no quotation marks in that headline, so I will go straight to the source and provide his entire quote. This is from the article above, as tweeted by Kelly Bauer of Block Club Chicago:

“I realize that the players have the right to haggle over their salaries, but we do live in a moment where the people of Illinois and the people of the United States deserve to get their pastime back — to watch, anyway, on television. If they’re able to come up with safety precautions, as has been suggested by Major League Baseball, that works, I hope that the players will understand that the people of our United States need them to recognize this is an important part of leisure time that all of us want to have in the summer: To watch them play baseball, to root for our favorite teams. We need that back. We need that normalcy. I must say I’m disappointed in many ways that players are holding out for these very, very high salaries and payments during a time when I think everybody is sacrificing.”

First of all, this is coming from someone who runs a state that houses five major professional sports teams in the city of Chicago, so obviously sports returning helps bolster an economy that needs some bolstering. That point is obvious, even though he didn’t say it. Second of all, no, the people of the United States do not “deserve to get their pastime back.” We, the people of the United States, deserve to have our health and safety made a priority by our leaders as we navigate a global pandemic. That, obviously, has been lacking for the last few months and looks to continue down that path.

Professional athletes tend to be genetic freaks. They did a great job in picking their parents and they put in the work to get where they are now. They are also still human beings and many have underlying health conditions. Do these players also deserve to take a pay cut so we can watch some baseball? And what about the staff? Many team employees and staff are not young, athletic freaks and would also need to be protected. What about their families? Do they, too, deserve to have their health put at risk while also bringing in less money so that we can watch some baseball? No. The players, their families, and the staff deserve to have their health and safety looked after just like we do. And they deserve to be fairly compensated for it, too.

This is obviously a hard time for everybody. There isn’t a single person in the world that this pandemic has not affected in some way, so any kind of distraction from the constant drudge of our current news cycle and daily stupidity is a welcome distraction. I would love nothing more for baseball to return. Having the chance to watch the Cincinnati Reds field a winning team for the first time in seven years would be great! But that can’t come without a guarantee of their health and safety. Nor should it. So before we start talking about what baseball players owe us, we should start asking what the owners owe them.