The Las Vegas Aces, a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) team, were forced to forfeit a recent game scheduled for August 3rd. The, “Aces players decided not to play because of concerns about their health and safety after 26 hours of travel” (A.P., 2018, para. 1).

This was an unfortunate turn of events for the Aces. After circumstances beyond their control forced them to travel for 26 straight hours- a nightmare experience everyone can relate to- the players refused to play their scheduled game.

On ESPN’s (ESPN is the premier sports-television network in the United States) morning show, Get Up!, the cast of talking-heads discussed the events leading up to the Aces forfeit. The segment’s title was, “Is it fair Las Vegas Aces had to forfeit game after 26 hours of travel issues?”  The four men discussing the issue were Mike Greenberg, Jalen Rose, Ryen Russillo, and Amin Elhassan. There was a consensus among the four that it was unfair that the WNBA league offices forced the Aces to forfeit instead of postponing the game. The conversation then meandered towards gender equity and the issues relating to gender disparities in sports.

Jalen Rose, retired NBA (National Basketball Association) star and member of “The Fab-5” Michigan Wolverines basketball team, said the following: “I’ve been really vocal . . . for how the WNBA athletes get treated like second class citizens in relation to the NBA . . . They have to fly commercial.” The NBA teams all fly on private planes. Throughout the segment, Rose advocated on behalf of the WNBA for equitable treatment comparable to their male counterparts in the NBA. He continued, as he said, “Maya Moore, who’s one of the greatest champions in basketball, male or female . . . she’s making $45,000.” He concluded with: “Now, with the influx of gambling money . . .  if you want to help the popularity of the sport, you have to invest in it . . . these are are the things . . . that continue to hurt their sport.”

Implicit in Rose’s argument are politically-liberal assumptions about human nature and the human condition. The two assumptions are the natural-equality of mankind, something Rousseau famously espoused in his Discourse on the origins of inequality (1753), and what Russell Kirk referred to as, “the drug of ideology.”

Rousseau believed that human beings are born naturally equal, but that our natural equality is corrupted by society (1753). By fixing society, we can restore that natural equality to the world (1753).

For Kirk, the drug of ideology is, “political fanaticism- and more precisely, the belief that this world of ours may be converted into the Terrestrial Paradise through the operation of positive law and positive planning” (Kirk, 2007, p. 348). Kirk’s notion of ideology also maintains that, “systemized knowledge derived from sensation could perfect society through ethical and educational methods and by well-organized political direction” (Kirk, 2007, p. 365). The basis for the drug of ideology is, “founded merely upon ‘ideas’- that is, upon abstractions, fancies, for the most part unrelated to person and social reality” (Kirk, 2007, p. 371).

The context of Kirk’s terminology is important. In this example, Kirk referred to the drug of ideology in relation to the atrocities the communist committed in the name of their ideology. While Rose is guilty of using the drug of ideology here, it mandates saying that in no way, shape, or form could someone ever call Jalen Rose a fanatic or compare him to the monsters of the 20th century Kirk wrote about. Rose is an upstanding member of his community who deserves praise for his significant personal financial contributions towards the endowment of a school in Detroit, MI, called, “The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.”

Rose believes that the WNBA players are not endowed with the same lavish and luxurious accommodations as the their male counterparts in the NBA because of an insufficient financial investment by ownership. He postulates that by investing more money into the WNBA, the additional financial expenditures will improve the WNBA as a business product, causing an increase in revenue, creating a cycle of profitability. He said that, “in business . . . what helps you flourish. . . is advertising, marketing, promotion . . . if you want us to look at your product favorably, you have to treat them favorably. . . and one of those things is a private plane.”

Rose uses abstractions, positive planning, and well-organized political direction as his tools to make the WNBA a more profitable and equitable institution resembling the NBA. Once these things are implemented, the natural equality of men and women will shine, and the WNBA, as a business product, will improve.

Panelist Ryen Russillo chimed in a with a more practical rebuttal to Rose’s beliefs. He opined that, “It starts to turn into this . . . equality/inequality conversation about the WNBA and the NBA . . . and I expect to be super-unpopular right here, but the league doesn’t make any money. . . that’s why they don’t have any money.” He further offered that the league suffered from financial problems due to a lack of interest in women’s basketball. He concluded with the following statement: “People have a hard time . . . asking the honest question of why the league isn’t as profitable . . . because the interest level . . . hasn’t been there.”

Russillo’s questions and comments are based on real-world, pragmatic, meat-and-potatoes, business realities. He alludes to the fact that the WNBA is not as successful as the NBA because people are not that interested in women’s basketball. They are not treated to the same luxuries as their male counterparts not because of ideological sexism, but because they do not bring in as much money as the men in the NBA. They simply cannot afford the same extravagances, as their profit and loss statements will not justify it.

Should the league offices force WNBA team owners to subsidize WNBA salaries and facilities to create the equitable conditions the NBA enjoys that the WNBA cannot afford on its own? To those who use the drug of ideology, the answer is a profound yes. The drug of ideology says that women and men are equal, and the difference in conditions between the leagues is due to sexism. Through positive planning, legislation, and social education, the sexism perpetrated by society will disappear, and the natural equality of women will take flight.

Those who oppose this ideological decision do so on the simple and basic premises that men and women are not equal, and that people should be compensated not based on gender, or ideology, but rather by what we are capable of earning. As Edmund Burke philosophised, “Believe me, Sir, those who attempt to level, never equalise. . . .The levellers therefore only change and pervert the natural order of things” (1790, para. 79). Burke understood that human beings are not equals, and attempting to force equality in an inequitable world will only make things worse. Nobel prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, understood this as well, as he offered that, “The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both” (PBS, 1980).

Human beings are not equal, and life is not fair. By forcing WNBA team owners to subsidize a product and elevate it to a level it is incapable of achieving on its own, will likely create additional problems and hardships they would not have encountered otherwise without this intervention. One of the problems league-mandated subsidies could create is causing the owners of WNBA teams to quit the league. If no replacement owners are found, the owner’s departures could cause a team’s termination. Russillo recognized the potential of this consequence when he said they cannot convince “owners into a deal unless the BRI (Basketball Related Income) is . . . favorable to ownership.” Forcing someone to lose money is a guaranteed failure of a business model.

As Edmund Burke understood, “They who truly mean well must be fearful of acting ill” (1791, p. 196). In their zeal to employ their ideological beliefs and make the world a better place, many times ideologues actually end up making things worse. Thomas Sowell refers to these people and their ideological schemes- many of whom are genuinely honest and good human beings with pure and noble intentions- as, “The vision of the anointed” (1995). The anointed are those high on the drug of ideology. They have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and are now enlightened. They are in possession of special knowledge that the rest of lack, and we must therefore get out of their way so they can implement their new schemes to save mankind.

Three recent examples of the vision of the anointed actually making things worse instead of better come to mind: Rent controlled apartments, raising the minimum wage of fast-food restaurant employees, and lowering admissions standards for non-White applicants at universities. Legally anchoring the price of rent in a building prevents the landlord from being able to profit, eliminating any incentive to maintain and improve the building. Once the incentive is removed, the landlord stops investing time and money into the building, causing the building to fall into desuetude. The building is now worse than ever before. Raising the minimum wage at fast-food restaurants like Burger King and McDonalds was supposed to help the employees live better lives. Unfortunately, the restaurant franchise owners were incapable of compensating all of their current employees under the new wage requirements, and therefore had to fire many of their employees, or reduce their hours. This hurts the population they intended to help. To make matter worse, many restaurants are now automating these positions by replacing human beings with robots. Examples include automated consumer order stations as well as french-fry and beverage stations which are now self-serve, or completely automated. This hurts not just those in the present, but also future applicants, as the industry is incentivized to automate. Finally, when universities lower admissions standards for students based on race, they admit unqualified students. These unqualified students frequently fail out of the university, demoralizing them (Sander & Taylor, 2012). Additionally, the students who had the grades, scores, and resumes to get in under the regular requirements are unfairly stigmatized.  They are often viewed as students who do not deserve to be at the school and are only there because of race.

When the anointed are able to enact their vision, they feel great about themselves. Unfortunately, the real question to ask is not whether they feel good, but whether they actually did good. Edmund Burke understood this far too well, as he articulated that judging a person based on intentions instead of results was faulty logic: “Will not judge of his intentions by the acts, but . . . will qualify his acts by the presumed intentions. It is on this preposterous mode of judging that he has built . . . his conduct ” (Burke, as quoted by Stanlis, 1986, p. 179).

Rose and the other ideologues will feel good about getting the WNBA improved conditions, but whether they actually do good is all that matters. If the owners are forced into a deal that is not profitable, or worse, creates financial losses, many WNBA jobs will likely be the collateral damage of good intentions gone wrong.

Rose concluded the segment by reiterating his point about private planes for WNBA teams: “It’s not that hard for them to do. A lot of these guys have so much money. . . it’s more of a decision and a sacrifice than the actual financial ramifications of it.” Rose’s logic is that the owners of professional sports franchises are so wealthy, what difference does it make for them to shell-out more of their money?

In a similar manner to Rose’s supplication to ownership for private planes, Elhassan pondered why the, “BRI split is something like less than a quarter . . . they get something like 22%, 23% . . . of basketball related income. That’s ridiculous.” What he’s referring to here is a revenue sharing system that the WNBA and NBA have. The NBA, according to his estimate, gives the WNBA 22-23% of their basketball related income. A paucity he finds outrageous.

If Thomas Sowell were on the show, he would ask the following question: “Since this is an era when many people are concerned about 'fairness' and 'social justice,' what is your 'fair share' of what someone else has worked for?” (2010, p. 397). What is the WNBA’s fair share of the NBA’s labor? The fact that the WNBA receives even a dollar from the NBA is a generosity.

Elhassan concluded his input for the television segment by stating that the WNBA, as a league, is in the most unique and capable position to go on strike of any pro-sports league. His logic is that the majority of their total-personal-income is made playing professional basketball outside the U.S. in places like China and Russia, and not playing in the WNBA.

Just like Jalen Rose’s point about the owners, “have so much money. . . it’s more of a decision and a sacrifice than the actual financial ramifications of it,” Elhassan is writing checks someone else has to cash. Their points bring up the second question out of three questions[1] I always ask when dealing with liberals and liberal ideology: Do you have any skin in the game? If you have no skin in the game, then it’s no skin off your back.

The WNBA players can strike, leveraging support via social-media outrage from the social justice warriors. The social justice warriors would no doubt apply their “full-court-press” mob-mentality and outrage directed at the “greedy” and “sexist” owners. Should they succeed and force higher wages and luxuries the teams cannot afford based on merit, the teams run the risk of failure, and people may lose their jobs. Should the players strike, they run the risk of missing income in the short-term, and possibly losing their jobs permanently. If the owners cannot make money on the WNBA, they have no incentive to participate in the league. If they are forced to lose money through team ownership, they will quickly conclude that they do not need the headache and will walk away. This will hurt the players and other employees of the league. Many of those advocating for these things on the basis of social justice have no skin in the game, and are therefore insulated from the potential consequences of their policy advocation.

As he was previously, Ryen Russillo was again the lone pragmatic voice who ignored ideology during the segment. He said we are not, “gonna get any owners into a deal unless the BRI is. . . favorable to ownership. . . The same thing happened with MLS (Major League Soccer), so this isn’t about male or female.” Russillo then asked the important question that business people are constantly forced to ask that social justice scholars at the university, the place where this current drug of ideology emanates from, never have to: “Who’s paying for it?”

            To conclude, the drug of ideology has no place in sports. Social justice and equity are well-intending values in theory, but work horribly in practice. By putting equality before freedom, the WNBA will have little of both, if any at all. In all likelihood, the vision of the anointed will feel good, but it will not do good. So long as the social justice advocates have no skin in the game, then their policies, no matter how horrifically they fail, will not affect them whatsoever. The drug of ideology will likely cause the WNBA to fail, and many will lose their jobs. When ideology precedes facts, outcomes are grim. 

            Only by acknowledging that there are in fact just-inequities in the world can the WNBA and its future survive. Only by asking the difficult questions and accepting the difficult answers will the future of the league remain secure.

Why is the WNBA not as profitable as the NBA? Because women’s basketball is not as good as men’s basketball; the game is not as exciting, and therefore makes less money. The WNBA is not as profitable as the NBA not because of ideological sexism, but because of biological differences in men and woman. The ideologues, who through their schemes and positive legislation, believe they have, “a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise; but in cruel fact what ideology has created is a series of terrestrial hells” (Kirk, 2007, p. 367). Should the WNBA put equality before freedom, they will have little of both, and will create for themselves a terrestrial hell. Should the WNBA put freedom before equality, they can ensure their stability in the present and for years to come.

 

Footnotes

1.   Are we bringing people up, or yanking them down?

a. When we bring people up, it’s a good thing, but when we yank them down, it’s symptomatic of the emotion of envy.

b. When it’s not about you rising, but someone else falling; when it’s not about you winning, but someone else losing; and when it’s not about having what someone else has, but about that person not having it, you’re dealing with envy.

2. Do you have any skin in the game? If you have no skin in the game, then your proposal is no skin off your back.

a. I had a professor in graduate school who would advocate redistributing wealth from “big business.” When I asked her how she would feel if we changed “big business” to “tenured professors,” she suddenly disliked the idea.

3. Are we attempting to apply a social justice model to a for-profit business? 

a.  Social justice, as ideology, emanates largely from our colleges and universities. As Vedder (2009), said: “Compounding the problem, over 90 percent of American higher education is non-profit in nature. Nonprofit institutions lack incentives to be efficient. The officers of for-profit Hewlett Packard, Campbell Soup and McDonalds work hard to do two things: increase revenues and reduce costs. The gap between revenues and cost—profits--is the major “bottom line” that determines executive compensation, stockholder wealth, and employee bonuses. There is no well defined bottom line in most of higher education –is Yale having a good year in 2009? Who knows?” (2009, para. 4). 

 

References

Associated Press. (2018, August 7). Las Vegas forfeits WNBA game canceled over travel delays. USA Today. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/wnba/2018/08/07/wnba-aces-forfeit-game-against-mystics-that-was-canceled/37346623/

Burke, E. (1790). Reflections on the revolution in France. Retrieved from: https://www.bartleby.com/24/3/4.html

Burke, E. (1791). An appeal from the new Whigs to the from the old. Indianapolis, IN: The Liberty Fund.

Kirk, R. (2007). The essential Russell Kirk: Selected essays. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books.

PBS Network. (19**). Milton Friedman citation needed

Rousseau, J. (1753). Discourse on the origins of inequality. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Sander, R., & Taylor, S., Jr.. (2012). Mismatch: How affirmative action hurts students it’s intended to help, and why universities won’t admit it. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Sowell, T. (1995). The vision of the anointed: Self-congratulation as a basis for social policy. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Sowell, T. (2010). Dismantling America. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Stanlis, P. (1986). Edmund Burke and the natural law. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Vedder, R. (2009, October 24). Letter to the Philadelphia society regional meeting. Retrieved from http://www.phillysoc.org/Vedder.pdf