In this country, sports are king. Nothing else matters as much. Nothing.
This year, despite drowning in revenue, neither the Alaska state legislature nor the governor could find any money for additional breakfasts at school for low-income kids or to provide more health care coverage for those same families through Denali Kid Care. Yet somehow, $2 million (later, after public outcry, reduced to $1.5 million) was found to provide Alaskans living off the road system with what amounted to basically free plane tickets and admission to the Great Alaska Shootout.
When this news hit the paper, I waited in vain for all those conservative legislators who think state government is too big and spends too much to come unglued. Where's their outcry about the nanny state? Where's the outrage? Where's the demand that the governor be investigated for approving this ridiculous expenditure? There is nothing but a huge void of silence that will soon be filled, I assume, with cheers from their seats at the Shootout.
I've spent enough time in this state to understand that saying anything negative about sports, especially basketball, is apt to get you an invitation for a one-way trip onto the tundra. I've watched the Daily News plaster the front page above the fold with the grand deeds and accomplishments of our various basketball teams while international wins by our college debate teams are lucky to get a blurb on Page 3. I lived in Barrow when the band had to raise all its own funds to be able to get to national competitions that they routinely won while the basketball team had a travel budget that would have choked a horse. I get it. Sports are king.
Yet I can't help but wonder if there isn't a point where a reasonable person has to say enough. The idea of funding college scholarships is still being debated in our legislature but a line item signing away $2 million dollars that basically will benefit Alaska Airlines and UA sports gets inserted into a bill and approved by the governor with no input at all. Because, really, why would you need input? It's basketball. That's all that needs to be said.
It seems there is always money for sports, and if there isn't, there is always a legislator who will be happy to drop a line in an appropriations bill to get it. And no one will say a word. Not one other legislator will challenge the line item because you have to have a death wish to challenge the supremacy of sports. The fact that academics should, in fact, be supreme in a university has become almost laughable. Class sizes are enlarged, courses are dropped and tuitions rise with no money to fund scholarships, but money for free trips and tickets to the Great Alaska Shootout are not a problem.
Heck, how much more do you want for the Shootout? Because all you have to do is ask. Just make sure none of that money goes toward poor people and their nutritional or health care needs because that will bring conservatives out roaring over wasteful government spending. Unless, of course, that poor kid has a good jump shot or throwing arm. Then we'll find all the scholarship money and free meals he needs to put our team on the national sports map.
The moral here seems to be that so long as its sports, state money can be found. If it's for academics, we need years to debate whether that's a wise use of our state funds. And if a kid has to take it for the team, has to go hungry for the day or miss out on a well child checkup because there's no money available, well so be it. If he wants the state to pay for him, then he should get with the program and become an athlete instead of a neuroscientist.
Yes sir, here in Alaska we have our funding priorities straight.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.