Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Popes and commissioners

And there it was. Black smoke. The quest to install a new Holy See, or conclave, sometimes known on the streets as the "Pope-a-thon", will continue. This is serious business.

Yet with all due respect to both, an idle, or perhaps in my case, delusional mind could suggest there are some parallels to be drawn between the "election" of a new Pope, and the naming of a new professional sports commissioner. To anyone who regards either of these ventures as matters not to be trifled with, I apologize in advance for the following levity.

No one knows for sure how long either one will serve. It could be a short time, or it could stretch on for decades. There's not exactly term limits involved with either one.

In sports, when in need of a new leader, the owners of the various franchises will get together at some ritzy location to hash over the pros and cons of all the candidates, and sometimes will even appoint one of their own. See Bud Selig. Similarly, all the Cardinals will make a pilgrimage to the Vatican to discuss much the same and, as places go, it doesn't get any ritzier than the Vatican. They will ALWAYS appoint one of their own.

No pesky reporters are allowed to witness the deliberations of either. No one knows what man (sorry ladies -- a few dozen commissioners and thousands of years of history speak for themselves and don't bode well for your chances) will emerge to assume the throne until it's all over.

The sports owners can be a tight-lipped group at times when it comes to such things. And trust me, NOBODY keeps a secret like those guys in the red gowns.

Idle thought: I wonder how and when a "cardinal" became the symbol of such lofty stature? Regardless, it's sure better than a "peacock", or those outfits might be something to behold indeed.

Once chosen, be it a Pope or a commissioner, that individual will wield great power. It might be likened to being God's representative on earth in their respectful undertakings. Few would dare to question their authority. They're the MAN. A Pope is charged with leading his flock, which consists of hundreds of millions of people. A commissioner has a flock of his own to worry about. Millions of fans. Both these groups pay the freight, as it were. If for whatever reason, such a group were to become disenfranchised and turn their backs, thereby cutting off the money supply, it is entirely possible, in either case, the entity affected would find itself in a rather difficult situation quite soon.

Both men set "policy". Some have been more "old school" and played it tight to the vest, while others have loosened things up a bit with rule changes. Alas, it seems as if neither one has ever been able to please their entire masses. No matter what they do, or don't do, there will be many that will disagree. Tough job being a Pope or a commissioner.

A commissioner will typically get paid an outrageous salary for his "service". He'll fly in ultra-first class planes and stay in posh hotels while making appearances, giving speeches, shaking hands, kissing babies, and generally live a life of luxury. Though the Pope's actual pay scale isn't so hot, he'll enjoy the same level of comfort while on the road doing many of the same things, and who needs money when everything is provided and you live in a place like the Vatican? Talk about fancy digs. If a Pope wanted to, he could probably sell off a few knick-knacks lying around and BUY a couple entire professional sports leagues, lock, stock, barrel, stadiums, concession stands, and naming rights, but that's another story.

But be it a commissioner or a Pontiff, they both have their share of headaches. A Commish will always have that troublemaking bunch known as a players' union nipping at his heels. Issues like compensation, free agency, player safety, and the seemingly never-ending battle against other agents of evil, such as performance enhancing drugs, continue to rear their ugly heads occasionally. Sometimes a commissioner will quietly delegate authority, keeping himself above the fray.

While he won't have to worry about a union, at least the labor variety so far (though that same-sex union thing may be a migraine waiting to happen), a Pope will inherit the age-old debates over such things as birth control, women becoming priests, who to promote to what position within the ranks, and it could fairly be said they've had a few truly evil demons of their own to cope with in the last several years. Bet they'd trade that problem for steroids any day. Sometimes delegating and staying above the fray would seem to be a prudent move.

Popes never go by their real names. They'll select another one like John, Paul, Benedict, usually a name one of their predecessors chose. Within a short time, most people quickly forget what their original names were.

This could be a ploy well-used by certain professional sports commissioners. I'd wager there were times when the likes of Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell, etc. wished nobody knew who they were either. It could come in handy when the going got tough.

Of course, all in all, the selection of a Pope is a much more important occasion than choosing some sports commissioner.

How do I know this? You'll never see thousands of people camped outside a hotel, waiting with bated breath for as long as it takes, where professional sports owners have assembled. Heck, most of the time we don't even know where the hotel IS. And you'll certainly never see Anderson Cooper, CNN's apparent version of deity, on site providing live coverage.

Idle thought II: What's the point of sending someone half way around the world to cover an event he can't see or hear?

But I think that white puff of smoke from the Vatican after the new leader has been chosen is a nice touch.

Maybe the sports owners should consider that. Couldn't hurt.

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