Foreclosures, lay-offs, late bills, the switch to a diet comprised exclusively of Top Ramen.

Chances are you, or someone you know, has been affected by America's recent epic economic downturn.

Everyone knows it's happening – except, it would seem, professional athletes.

Holdouts, missed mini-camps, tough-talking agents – all are hallmarks of the offseason for the NFL, MLB and NBA.

Why do we, as fans in the midst of a historic recession, put up with it?

Grousing about the bloated salaries of weekend warriors is nothing new. It's been going on since modern pro sports were invented, and in all probability, a long time prior.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rose to 9.5 percent in June 2009. That means roughly 2.9 million people woke up jobless this morning.

These statistics aren't hard to find. A minimal amount of respect for ticket-buyers from some so-called "big name" sports stars sure is.

In February, the Los Angeles Dodgers offered Manny Ramirez a contract for two years and $45 million, with a $15 million option for a third year.

Ramirez, delivering one of the year's bigger collective fan face-slaps, instead tried to shake down L.A. for a six-year contract totaling $165 million. That's $27.5 million a year, according to the Dodgers' Web site.

USA Today's MLB salaries database (a great site to browse if you want to become so green with envy you'll blend into the left field wall at Fenway Park), puts Ramirez's earnings since 1994 at $165,753,763.

So much money, and no thought for the fans, some barely scraping by?

Ramirez did "settle" for the $45 million, but only after negotiations broke down and the Dodgers then agreed to take the $15 million option year off the table and allow the slugger to leave after a year if he wanted.

Ramirez did give $1 million to the Dodgers' charitable fund after he signed – a built-in clause in his contract made the "voluntary" donation mandatory. How kind.

So really, he signed for $44 million over two years. The guy is 37 years old and basically played possum with Boston Red Sox because he didn't like the front office. And all this occurred in the heady days before we knew why Ramirez was so sensitive – he was trying to become pregnant. Oh wait, he only took (according to ESPN), a female fertility drug (also used to restart natural testosterone production after a steroid cycle) and was suspended for nearly a third of the season.

Ramirez has two once-undesirable traits well covered – a propensity for cheating, and a healthy helping of avarice.

But upon his return to the majors after a 50-game suspension, some fans actually cheered for him.

Gratifyingly, reports stated boos were mixed in equally, but who is putting on the Manny wig and yelling, and why?

Is it America's love of the outlaw? "Public Enemies," a rehash of John Dillinger's escapades, is making a mint at the box office for Universal Pictures right now, after all.

Take Brandon Marshall, Denver Bronco wideout and compiler of an impressive list of arrests over the last few seasons. He is also unhappy with his contract, set to total about $2.2 million next season. Marshall is so unhappy he's refusing to attend mandatory Bronco mini-camps.

The man is coming off hip surgery, not to mention an arm injured while rough-housing with his brother. He's a threat to be sent to jail or suspended at any moment during the season, and somehow feels like $2.2 million for a year's work is too little. The average college-educated American worker, who would likely earn a big fat pink slip for intentionally skipping a mandatory meeting, can count on making $2.1 million – in a lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Sports Illustrated reports that instead of attending to his NFL career, Marshall has been spending time at his house in Denver while overseeing to his youth football camp and making plans to start two more, in Pittsburgh and Orlando, Fla., where he has two more houses.


In addition to exerting what is undoubtedly a stellar influence on young people, Marshall can afford three homes … and he's complaining about money.

Nearly 2.4 million homes underwent foreclosure filings in 2008. Colorado ranked fifth nationally in the percentage of foreclosures among home owners, according to RealtyTrac.

So why would a Denver denizen root for Marshall on the field?

This writer's bet: it's the escape.

Day-to-day life can get rough, and at times, sport is the one thing that can make us smile.

Who cares about a late payment fee when your team has just hung one on its biggest rival?

We fans need to look deeper in the mirror.

Escape and the camaraderie between rooters are great, and it is why sports bring so much to so many lives.

But as fans, we need to value ourselves more.

Our affections, our die-hard, bleed-the-colors enthusiasm, our hours spent checking scores and statistics: these are not inconsequential.

We do not have to watch an arrest-magnet like Brandon Marshall get rich while we struggle to buy a box of Raisin Bran. Pro athletes are going to gain wealth – let's support those who do it right. Don't buy a Marshall jersey. Don't cheer when Ramirez hits a home run.

Sure, it's your team doing well, but are these the guys you want representing you, as a fan?

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