Sports and Marxism. More on Ken's posts.

Carrol Cox cbcox at rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Tue May 21 17:06:11 MDT 1996


    First of all, I'm really sorry that I can not for the life of me
remember where I read the remark on the police force as an affirmative
action program for the Irish. If I ever come across it again, I'll let
the list know.

    But that is not my main concern here, but Ken's postings on sports
in general reminds me of a line of thought that I've occasionally followed
in a vague way, and I thought I'd throw it out for responses. It concerns
the "huge salaries" professional athletes get. (Incidentally, I think the
average is not all that high, but that is no my immediate concern either.)

    Consider those salaries in strict Marxist terms, that is, see the
athletes as workers selling their only commodity, their labor power.
Then the issue is to estimate the value of the labor power, that is
to estimate the amount of human labor that has gone into its production.
And in fact that labor time is incredibly huge.

    For every kid that goes out for junior high "varsity" athletics,
there is all the time put into either elementary physical education
or corner sandlot games, and if (say) x number of kids go out for
varsity play in junior high, there are ptimes x players in those
earlier less organized sports. But there will be more who go out for
junior high alhletics that there will be who go out for high school
athletics. And for every starting varsity player in high school, there
will be all those who are on B squads or exist only to give the
varsity practice. Now all those hours of "play" by those who are not
starters on the varsity go into "qualifying" the labor of those who
do make the varsity.

    Next, only a very small percentage of those who play football or
basketball in high school go on to play in college (and there again youu
have scores of mere bodies necessary for the varsity to practice on).

    And, of course, only a small percentage of those thousands of
college varsity players goe on to professional athletics, and many of
of them are relegated to mere backups or practice dummies for the
regulars, and of the regulars, many of those merely sit on the bench.

    That is, thousands of hours of comletely unpaid labor have gone
into the labor power of every professional athlete. (I'm not even
counting the "paid" labor of h.s. coaches, that probably produces
a surplus that goes, first of all, into the labor power of their
students.)
    This is sloppy, but it seems to me that there is a probably those
"high" salaries of the professional athletes are not high at all if
you consider all the unpaid labor that has produced their labor power.
Probably the junior high school second teams should get some of it, but
that is impossible. So it might as well be the athlete (even those who
are slobs) rather than the owners who get as much of that accumulate
value as possible.
    Is this merely idle speculation, or could it be tightened up to
help form our image of how capitalism works?
    Carrol





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