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Opinion

January 19, 2013

We always find enough funds for bread, circuses

(Continued)

For small-market teams like the Bills, this sort of bilking is possible because a ruthless potential owner could buy the team and threaten to relocate it to mooch off the taxpayer teat in some other city. But more-stable franchises are no less willing to play hardball; new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets cost the public $2 billion. According to Bloomberg News, taxpayers are on the hook for $4 billion in bonds used to finance stadiums across the U.S. since 1986.

As a former sports editor who crossed over to what journalists call “the news side” a few years ago, I see incongruity in one page of my newspaper telling about public schools and nursing homes closing for lack of funds while another page tells of huge subsidies for millionaire athletes to play children’s games – for which their billionaire handlers charge us $60 admission to the nosebleed seats.

A strict constructionist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution would find financing of sports – from grade school on up – outside the government’s authority. The same would be said for public programs to subsidize artists, such as the National Endowment for the Arts.

But on the other hand, sports and art have a value that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. Why, after all, do parents encourage their kids to play sports and join the band or choir, even though such activities do little to increase a young person’s earnings potential?

Whenever schools tighten their budgets, art and music classes end up on the chopping block first, with sports not far behind. Unfortunately, these are among the best activities for young people to learn about themselves and build character. The diligence and patience required, for example, to hone an accurate jump shot or master a difficult instrument can be helpful later in life. There’s also something healthy and natural about competition, as President Barack Obama said in March.

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