The Sports Philosopher Says, ‘Democracy Doesn’t Work (by Brad Eastland)

March 17, 2013
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Have any of you been following all the trades and free agent signings in football lately?   Does your head hurt too?

Seriously.   This time of year there are so many players switching teams that not only can’t you keep track of it, but frankly it gets a little comical.

I texted my son the other day (he being a Patriots fan as far as the AFC goes) the following update: “Brandon Lloyd was just cut, Welker is gone, Danny Woodhead just signed with another team, and Donte Stallworth was just seriously injured in a hot-air balloon accident!”   To which he replied, “I can’t friggin’ believe it,” taking care not to swear overtly to his father.   Last week my brother got so excited over hearing that our beloved Chicago Bears had lured uber-lineman Jermon Bushrod away from the New Orleans Saints that he texted me his joy at 7 a.m.   Which was bad enough.   The problem is that he lives three time zones to the east, making it FOUR a.m. when his text beeped and woke me up out of a sound sleep.   The way players switch teams this time of year reminds me of ‘speed dating’.   You get a couple of minutes to make up your mind, if he or she sucks you mentally spit in his or her face, and then it’s on to the next option.   The pace of signing players and releasing players to make room for them is frenetic.   Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos even tried to take a pay cut to stay with the Broncos but didn’t do it quick enough to meet his contract decision deadline and the Broncos were actually forced to cut him, to avoid paying him the salary they signed him for.   He fired his agent over it.   And members of the champion Baltimore Ravens are jumping off the ship so fast and are in such a hurry to leave you’d think it was the Titanic….its chaos out there.

Wes heads west to play for Denver.

Wes heads west to play for Denver.

And it’s the same in baseball.   Free-agent players with any market value simply sign with the team who puts the most zeroes on the contract.   This has been going on for over 30 years.   Ever since free agency became accepted and legal in baseball.

And I don’t like it.

Never have.

Oh don’t get me wrong.   I think it’s the morally “right” way to do things, it is freedom and fairness and all of that stuff, democracy and capitalism at its finest, blah blah blah, and if I was a player I certainly wouldn’t want to be bound to one team forever either.

But I don’t think it’s good for the game.

Never have.

When I was a kid, back in the 60s and early 70s, baseball players usually played with one team throughout most, or all, of their careers.   Free agency wasn’t legal.   A trade was about as rare as a lunar eclipse.   Players were actually looked down upon and deemed disloyal if they accepted a trade, let alone demanded one.   And the result was that there was continuity.   A kid knew who was on his favorite team, and it was something he could count on.   Honestly, I don’t know how a kid picks a favorite team nowadays.

One of the many reasons I like the San Francisco Giants is that they do a great job of re-signing their players, especially their key players, and most especially their core pitchers.   The Giants team which won the World Series in 2010 reads a lot like the roster of the team which won the World Series in 2012.  (Notice how I cleverly worked both Giants teams which recently won the championship into this paragraph?).   But typically, you can barely recognize a team’s roster from year to year.   You misguided Dodger fans, pull up your team’s roster from just three years ago and compare it to today’s.   Very few players will be on both.   Compare that to the 70s, when the Blue Crew’s fabled infield of Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey stayed together and were all in the starting lineup—all four of them—for EIGHT STRAIGHT seasons.   That’s a record.   And a good one.

So what’s the point of all this?

The point is that in Sports, democracy doesn’t work.   Baseball was better 40 and 50 years ago.   So was football.   So was basketball.   Why?   When players couldn’t leave their teams, teams stayed together.   A fan knew where he stood.   More to the point, the product on the field was better.   Expansion dilutes talent and dilutes the product.

Free agency makes it harder to scare and discipline players.   In football, free agency and wealthy players makes it harder to be a good tyrant.   In the old days, the best football coaches (Halas, Lombardi, Landry, Ditka before he went crazy, Jimmy Johnson, Paul Brown, George Allen, Parcells, Cowher, Walsh) were all tyrants.   One-year contracts meant players were tougher, sharper, better.   They were worried about their jobs.   In sports, democracy is a fungus.   Tyranny works.   It’s like what the delightfully despotic Gene Hackman said to Denzel Washington and the rest of his submarine crew in that otherwise awful movie Crimson Tide: “We’re here to preserve and protect democracy, not practice it.”

And the larger issue is even more stark.   Not only were Sports better in the 60s and 70s in this country than they are now.   So was practically everything else.

Think about it.   Is music as good now as then?   Very funny.   Are movies as good now as then?   Not even close.   Has the state of “Literature” (quotes employed to signify mocking irony) improved in the last 50 years or regressed?

Don’t get me started.   People aren’t as nice, houses are uglier, wars are murkier, everything costs way more than it used to cost per capita, Bin Laden ruined airports forever, women are harder to figure out than ever, politicians have hit a new low, gas prices are sad, they used to wash your windows for free remember?, doctors still remove the wrong kidney, a gumball has gone from a penny to a quarter, too many people, too few mail boxes, and in a couple of years I don’t think you’ll ever, ever, be able to get a decent parking space.

This is progress???

What’s the point of progress if there is no genuine progress?

The world is losing ground, people.   On every front that matters.

But please don’t ask me what to do about it.   I’m a philosopher, not a social worker.   I have no degrees in civil engineering or music appreciation or mass media manipulation or labor management.   But I’ve already done the hard part.   I’ve given you the insight and direction….now go do something about it.   Go make things better.   Go on.   And then get back to me.

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0025

Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, a film buff, an undiscovered literary savant, and a big fan of tyranny in Sports.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.   His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’.   Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.

*To pick up a copy of Brad’s modern-day ‘epic’ novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it (using the author’s full name, C. Bradford Eastland) on,, or….and finally, his most recent book, “L.A. JOURNAL”, a collection of short-stories about Los Angeles, is also available through and

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