Players might be the best book about the business of sports since Moneyball. Instead of investigating one sport through the lens of one team, Futterman looks at several major sports, focusing on key participants ... Agree or not, it is a complex tale, compellingly told. Players is more fun than watching a major golf tournament and certainly easier than playing in one.
As his subtitle suggests, Futterman has cast the story in a heroic mode—as a series of actions in the tradition of the storming of the Bastille, the Boston Tea Party, and the ninety-five theses nailed to the door ... Although the dramatic effect of the stories is fine, the premise is false. For everyone knows what the social role of sports is today. It is, via commercials and endorsements, to sell stuff. And everyone knows what makes that possible: television. It did not require a revolutionary genius to figure this out ... Futterman knows this perfectly well, too, and when, in his final chapters, he gets to the part played by television in modern sports, he makes his most provocative observations.
[Futterman] tends to view money favorably in individual sports like golf and tennis but sees it as a corrosive force in team sports like basketball, where he links ballooning sneaker deals with a plague of ball-hogging, as players came to value endorsement contracts more than championship rings ... Futterman largely ignores our current golden age of ball movement and dwells instead on the decade following Michael Jordan’s retirement, when a host of players came to the N.B.A. directly from high school.
That skyrocketing salary growth has not occurred for schoolteachers or police officers or truck drivers or journalists. What happened within professional sports — especially baseball, football, basketball, golf and tennis — to create nothing short of a revolution? How is it that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach earned about $25,000 during his first season as a starter, and thus sold commercial real estate during the football off-season, while a generation later his successors earned unimagined multiples of that sum? That is the question addressed masterfully by author Matthew Futterman ... The section about McCormack is filled with insights not only into sports, but also into human nature.