Athletes' Salaries Reflect the Market

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Athletes' Salaries Reflect the Market
So stop complaining
Justin Hartfield

In my discussion class for Humanities Core Course 1C, I overheard the teaching assistant grumble that professional athletes are exceedingly overpaid, while teachers are incredibly underpaid, although their job is much more important.

A seemingly sympathetic student blurted out that Shaquille O’Neal signed a $100 million contract just for dunking a basketball, what lunacy! Naturally, I quickly corrected the student and told her he is actually making over $120 million over a seven-year period, and that he could probably negotiate to get more money if he wanted.

Is this a reflection on our society? Do we as Americans truly value professional athletes above our beloved schoolteachers? In a purely monetary sense, yes. Athletes, especially high profile athletes, like Shaq, Warren Saap or Roy Jones generate money. Lots of money. Disgusting amounts of money that would make Scrooge McDuck rile with envy. Americans fork over tons of money to support their favorite teams and athletes by paying to see them perform either live or on cable every year.

When the Lakers pay Shaq $120 million, they are paying him a small percentage of the revenue he actually generates. Do people honestly think the Los Angeles Lakers are a not-for-profit organization, and that it’s there to only benefit the basketball playing community as a whole? Jerry Bus may not be a member of Mensa, but he’s certainly smart enough to squeeze a sizeable profit out of his three-time consecutive champion Lakers.

Does this mean that we don’t value our teachers? A teacher can only serve a very small number of students at a time. In addition, most would agree that the smaller the class size, the more effective the teacher. If one were to determine the annual income of an individual based on the number of people they assist, improve, or entertain the professional athlete would come out ahead, at a rate of about 100,000 to 1.

Ultimately, the market determines athletes enormous salaries. If there was not a market for football, no one would pay $1,000 for a seat at the Super Bowl. However, the fact is, Americans love professional sports.

Americans also love to see professional athletes at the top of their game. If all members of the Angels Baseball Organization played at the same level as the guys who play softball at the local baseball diamond every Friday night, who would ever show up to an Angel’s game?

Case in point: the XFL. The XFL was an attempt by WWF owner Vince McMahon to create his own football league that would compete with one of the most well established and well run sports organizations on the planet-the NFL. His league featured disgraced NFL players, an assortment of convicts, and some Canadian/Arena Football players. Needless to say, it was a dismal failure and McMahon reported a loss one quarter the size of his company in that fiscal year. (This is not to say that I did not bet heavily on the Los Angeles Xtreme; I did and it was the easiest money I ever made.)

On the other hand, the vast majority of teachers do not get paid based on their performance, but earn a yearly salary, regardless of how monotone they are. Almost anyone that obtains a degree from an accredited college and passes the proper examinations can become a teacher. There are many people that do just that every year. Teaching is a relatively comfortable job compared to an Offensive Lineman’s or even a dockworker. A teacher gets paid for only working three quarters of the year, they receive government benefits, and get a sizable pension when they retire. Teachers can also teach well into their golden years, while most professional athletes retire in their late 30s.

Compare that to athletes that must train and stay in tremendous shape all year long. They must brutalize their bodies (and risk career ending injuries) every time they step onto their respective fields, and face international criticism every time they make a mistake (on and off the field).

This is not to say, however, that no athlete has ever been overpaid. There is an entire league of overpaid athletes, called the WNBA. The WNBA, or the Women’s National Basketball Association, has an annual average attendance of 9,072 per game. Last year the WNBA championship game featured a double-overtime, buzzer beater for the win, three pointer. It received a .5 in the television rating. Compare this to the final game of the XFL, which got 1.4 rating. Amazingly, the WNBA is still being played, and its players still have jobs. The exact reason as to why the WNBA continues is a mystery to me. Maybe it’s charitable benefactors like Rosie O'Donnell, and other prominent lesbians keep it afloat, but I digress.

The only hope teachers have in competing with athletes, in terms of salary, is if they are paid based on their ability to teach and the improvement of their students. The only way this will ever happen is if schools are privatized. If schools were privatized, the market would greatly reward good teachers while punishing bad teachers. This would be an ideal compliment to the capitalistic system already in place in this country. However, until that day, long live Fantasy Football.

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