Bill Maher Mistakenly Believes That There Are No Nepo Babies in Pro Sports
“There are no nepo babies in sports, and talent always wins,” says someone who clearly is not watching what Cal McNair continues to do to the poor fans of the Houston Texans.
On the latest Real Time with Bill Maher, comedy’s most acerbic centrist finally addressed a hot-button entertainment issue mere months after the conversation had all but died down — this past Friday, Maher lambasted Hollywood “nepo babies,” the sons and daughters of famous figures who follow in their parents’ footsteps and achieve show-business success. Maher, the son of a network news editor and radio announcer, took time on his talk show to advise the acclaimed actors and actresses who went into the family business, “Enjoy the good life, nepos, just don’t say that you didn’t have a huge advantage.”
According to Maher, professional sports leagues are the last true meritocracies left in America, and their popularity compared to other entertainment outlets is due to the allure of the level playing field. While Maher acknowledged that a large number of professional athletes are themselves the children of pros, no one makes it to the highest level unless they are objectively the best of the best, even claiming, “The 450 players in the NBA are the absolute best 450 players the teams could find anywhere in the world.” Sure, and the Milwaukee Bucks just so happen to have two of them named Antetokounmpo.
Setting aside the fringe cases in which star players advocate for their friends and family to get roster spots despite their lack of high-level talent, Maher’s thesis doesn’t seem outrageous at first glance — professional sports teams have demonstrated that they are willing to overlook any number of character flaws from domestic violence charges to insane anti-Semitism if a player is talented enough to earn them wins, so last names and backgrounds should seem pretty inconsequential in the selection process.
However, the athletes themselves aren’t the only ones securing paychecks from these leagues — the front offices and coaching staffs of every sport are full of the kids of big names who got their foot in the door from their famous fathers. Let’s not pretend that Steve Belichick had the same interview process with the New England Patriots as every other assistant coach.
In addition, it’s not just blessed genetics that help stars like Steph Curry and Domantas Sabonis achieve top-level success — naturally, the children of professional players are mentored by top-level coaching and talent development from a very young age that athletes from other backgrounds simply don’t have access to until they’re already stars. The New York Times recently printed an article on this exact phenomenon as it relates to professional tennis, citing elite tennis coaches who explain how even naturally talented athletes can fall dismally behind in their development if they don’t receive quality coaching before the age of 10.
All this is to say that, while professional sports certainly seem more meritocratic than a Hollywood casting call, family connections still separate certain athletes, coaches and executives from the rest of the pack during their rise to the top. Hollywood may flaunt its nepotism with a hilarious dearth of self-awareness when Ice Cube’s kid claims that he landed the role of his own father in Straight Outta Compton by nailing the audition, but every industry in the world is inundated with legacy stories and someone’s kids. Parents will always try to help their children succeed in any way they can, and the expectation of a level playing field is naïve to the point of comedy.
New rule: You’re not allowed to complain about someone else’s unearned advantages unless you’re an orphan who has been working your way since you were 6 years old. I don’t want to hear anyone complain about anyone else’s parents until Oliver Twist weighs in.