The concept of banning sports is as realistic as banning Christmas, arguably the second-most popular holiday in the United States behind Super Bowl Sunday. Instead we should go in the opposite direction and encourage the sports industry to behave like a free market — legalize steroids and gambling and make athletes a tradable commodity.
Legalize steroids …
The main argument against performance-enhancing drugs is that they create an unfair playing field, much in the way Syracuse University’s Jim Boeheim created an unfair educational playing field by making the student portion of student-athletes optional. If all athletes were permitted to use steroids, they would build a better product for fans. Likewise, the pharmaceutical community would have the opportunity to invest in cleaner and safer chemical enhancements. But healthy living is not the point; this is about making sports more exciting, harder-hitting, bone-crushing spectacles by creating bigger, faster athletes.
We’ve already seen the results for professional football and baseball, but imagine the possibilities for other sports. A 250-pound, six-foot-four, racquet-wielding Ronda Rousey squaring off on the tennis court against Maria Sharapova. You and three relatively un-athletic peers taking gold in the four-man bobsled race at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Or a bronzed and dazzling Alex Rodriguez injected with ballerina-enhancing drugs (BEDs) on his way to being crowned victor of Dancing With the Stars.
… And gambling
“Why limit the fun to just the ticket holders and owners? Legalize gambling so everyone has a vested interest in the sport and outcome,” says Eddie, a part-time bookie from Long Island who takes bets on major sporting events. “It will only bode well for the economy.”
Like the roughly 40 million Americans who filled out a bracket during this month’s NCAA Tournament, Eddie enjoys gambling on professional sports as a hobby — who doesn’t? Las Vegas tourism may suffer, but legalized gambling would benefit the whole economy — from job creation to the local bars and restaurants where patrons cheer on athletes and spend money. Even family game night will foster more camaraderie as siblings gather around the TV to learn the fate of the vacation fund that was wagered on the Stanley Cup finals.
Make Athletes A Tradable Commodity
Historically, fines and suspensions have done little to change athletes’ behavior. In the spirit of capitalism, a better approach might be to monetize the problem. Imagine a new kind of investment, the Athlete IPO, of which stock in professional players can be bought and sold by the general public. In the months leading up to the NFL draft, a player’s management would “roadshow” the athlete — based on performance, marketability and off-field behavior — in the same way a company would lobby potential investors prior to an initial public offering.
A player would be required to hold 40 percent of his “stock”; owners and even the NFL could hold a percentage, with the rest available for purchase by stockholders. A player would not be permitted to sell his stock until retirement. In this way, both athletes and investors would have an interest in their portfolios performing well, which would come from a combination of on-field execution and off-field behavior.
Those who own stock in an athlete that hits two homeruns, or rushes for 150 yards, or rescues a busload of children will benefit from the rising stock price. Whereas when an athlete is arrested for domestic violence, or appears on TMZ drunkenly plodding through a field sobriety test, or is accused of running a dogfighting syndicate, his stock will plummet, affecting both his salary and shareholder stakes.
The stock market works on the assumption that there is fierce competition between companies — every time someone purchases an Android phone, they choose not to purchase an iPhone. Offering the general public a similar choice — the standard of athlete in which they purchase stock — would improve competition and encourage the type of role model conduct that makes fans spend $200 on game jerseys.
All team loyalty aside, would you invest in an over-the-hill, average-fielding, trustworthy New York Yankees shortstop, or a prime-of-his-career, hard-hitting, hard-punching Baltimore Ravens running back?