I recently wrote on Facebook that I love sports but I hate capitalism. Let me explain.
Baseball, probably my favorite game to follow, really does unite entire cities together. Fans who may otherwise disagree on many issues come together on game day to support their home teams. It's truly a beautiful and American tradition highlighting everything great about family fun, healthy competition and town pride.
However, in professional baseball, like all major sports, there remains an ugly side.
The New York Times recently ran an article entitled, "New Exotic Investment: Latin Baseball Futures." Even the headline sounds disturbing.
The lead paragraph states, "Investors from the United States believe they have found an exotic new prospect: Latin American baseball players, some as young as 13, and many from impoverished families."
Yikes! Has it really become okay to call children from poverty stricken countries "exotic new prospects"? I immediately thought of the slave trade and other forms of human bondage, all for profit. What a downright dirty, and yet unsurprising, expression.
It's no secret that historically many Latino and especially Afro-Latino baseball players come from extremely poor backgrounds all around South and Central America. Think of Roberto Clemente from Puerto Rico, Sammy Sosa from the Dominican Republic, Dennis Martinez from Nicaragua, Mariano Rivera from Panama or Ozzie Guillen from Venezuela, to name a few. The list goes on.
The Times details how these so-called "investors" recognize that major league teams offer multimillion-dollar contracts to some teenage prospects. Looking to reap the financial benefits of such future prospects - for themselves - these investors are "up-starting" trainers and building "academies" in the Dominican Republic, one of the poorest nations in all Latin America.
"In exchange, the investors are guaranteed significant returns - sometimes as much as 50 percent of the player's bonuses - when they sign with major league teams," notes the article. Agents in the U.S. typically receive 5 percent.
The investors mentioned, all highly suspect, include Brian Shapiro, a New York hedge fund manager working with Reggie Jackson; Steve Swindal, former general partner of the Yankees; Abel Guerra, a former White House official under George W. Bush; and Hans Hertell, a former U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
Many criticize the lack of professional oversight and responsibility in professional sports. The question is why American investors are adding to an already controversial system that takes Dominican teenagers out of school and possibly exposes them to steroid abuse. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.
One investor, Gary Goodman, a real estate lawyer from Cranford, N.J., opened up an academy on the island in 2009. "Are we there to make a profit? Absolutely," he admitted.
Every month Goodman wires thousands of dollars to feed, clothe, house and train the prospects, ages 13 thorough 19, many of whom cannot read and do not attend school. Goodman and others like him believe they are actually helping to improve the lives of these youth and their families who otherwise have little to no economic or educational opportunities.
Another American investor in the Dominican Republic is Greg G. Maroni, a dentist who owns several fast-food franchises. Maroni finances a baseball camp on the island that opened in 2007. He says he's unaware whether the teenagers recruited to his camp went to school or not.
"It would sure be a nice goal in the long term," he said. "Maybe we can give them some English and basic arithmetic classes so they know what a social security number is and know a checkbook."
Meanwhile David P. Fidler, a professor of international law, says the Dominican scouts, known as "Buscones," are really in the business of selling children. "And it's very disturbing that American investors would come in to profit from a system that exploits and discriminates against young children," he said.
The sports industry, which makes billions of dollars yearly, has its dark side. Boxing, football, basketball, you name it - all continue to profit tremendously off its players, many of whom risk their physical and mental health in the ring or on the field.
Baseball is a beautiful game and is becoming more and more international. Children worldwide love the bat and ball and whether it's cheering a homerun slugger or an outstanding pitcher, the game truly inspires greatness.
But baseball's beauty and greatness should not be exploited by a system that strips the purity and fun from its most innocent fans. No child should have to play the sport to survive.
That's just wrong.