Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Business before 'values'

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

Champions of "moral values" might be in a state of apoplexy over that spectacle in Michigan the other night.

Their litany of what's wrong with the American character was embodied in the violent melee of Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers players mixing it up and brawling with beer-swilling fans who doused players with suds—racial fisticuffs, alcohol, overpaid and egomaniacal pro athletes with uncontrollable anger, fans gone berserk with the equivalent of road rage, rules be-damned, kids exposed to civilized behavior gone mad, obscene language

Outrageous, harumphed critics in unison, from team owners to well-behaved fans, from NBA commissioner David Stern to makers of sports products endorsed by players. Can a congressional investigation be far behind?

So much for predictable blather. When pro forma moralizing wears off, it's business as usual.

Clergy may unleash fury from their pulpits about America's rotten values. Conservatives who want laws to curb "immorality" may rail against mayhem, violence, sex and sleaze on TV, film, CDs and in sports.

But in the end, it's always business.

Consider a hero of the "moral values" crowd, Rupert Murdoch, who created Fox News as the virtuously conservative alternative to "liberal" media, and showcasing holier-than-though icons (none holier-than-thou than closet lecher Bill O'Reilly) holding forth about values.

Murdoch, however, has the heart of a robber baron, not the soul of a pastor. Fox's "Married by America" TV show (now cancelled) paid a chump-change $1.2 million fine for an episode involving "partygoers (who) lick whipped cream from strippers' bodies" and strippers spanking a man on hands and knees in his underwear.

Murdoch's book division, HarperCollins, profited handsomely from Jenna Jameson's "How To Make Love Like a Porn Star," as well as other titles with triple-X content not designed for the pure of mind.

Don't expect Murdoch, a premiere multi-billionaire entrepreneur, to abandon profitable sleaze to pacify evangelicals and their "family values."

Ditto the NBA.

Team owners, whose multi-million dollar a year bad boys earn more in a single game than a fan makes in a year, won't tolerate long suspensions. Bad for performance, bad for box office. They'll put the screws to the NBA commissioner to relent.

Beer companies who pour tens of millions of dollars into pro sports won't stand for suspending sales during games.

So, pro sports will continue to pay kingly salaries to morally bankrupt, foul-mouthed athletes.

And fans will gladly pay extortionate ticket prices to watch the next brawl (like Indianapolis 500 fans waiting for a crash) and thereby enrich morally indifferent team owners who're worried about franchises, not morals.

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