In Defense of Highly Paid Athletes

Hey everyone. Time to share a pet peeve of mine, the idea that athletes are way overpaid. Usually expressed in such ways as “Overpaid spoiled brats”, “They should get a real job”, “Millions to play a kid’s game” and other equally ill informed platitudes. Or sayings such as “A man defending our freedom should get more than a man defending a goal”. What annoys me is the reverse elitism and the lack of understanding of basic economics.

Quick economics lesson: in our capitalistic economic system you are compensated based on the economic value you provide. If you work for someone your employer decides how much value your labor provides for his or her company and your compensation is based on that perceived value and the demand for your services. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how hard the job is, how much you had to do to obtain the knowledge to do your job or the perceived value of your job to society. Only your economic value to your employer and the demand for your services matter.

Well a person who plays a game can’t possibly present that much value. Except apparently they do since billionaires who we know understand how economics work because they own said sports teams worth billions of dollars have decided they are worth that. While not all extremely rich people make sound economic decisions I trust their estimation of someone’s economic value over someone making around $50,000 a year (which would include me as I make less).  Now make no mistake, sports teams are “vanity investments”. Rich business people don’t buy them to make their millions, they buy them after they’ve made their millions to have a little fun. But even with all the costs sports teams still by and large turn profits.

BTW: “corporate welfare” is another issue entirely that does give sports team owners an advantage. Its a bit more complicated than “they are rich so they shouldn’t get any public money” (although that might be a good start to a conversation on this). Sports teams represent a huge value to the cities they are in. Could that money be better spent elsewhere (including the revenue lost from free rent and tax immunities)? That’s a fair question but sports teams pour tons of money into their communities as they add value to nearby businesses and increase the city’s prestige and sense of community (watch the Tampa news report on the Lightning’s march through the playoffs).

The biggest argument against multi million contracts is that these athletes aren’t as valuable to the community as a soldier, police officer, firefighter, doctor, lawyer, teacher etc. Well I personally agree but how does a economic system based on perceived societal value work? I’m a public education teacher. There are those who think public education is wrecking our society by pushing liberal propaganda. So to them teachers have a negative social value. So should teachers pay for the right to teach? Do we take a poll? How do we put a dollar figure on what a teacher is worth? Or an Airman? A firefighter? Politicians? I think we’d see them under the bridge with “Will legislate for food” signs. How does an eccentric inventor get paid under a societal value model? Do we wait and pay them after we find out if their invention has merit? Well that’s capitalism. Or do we judge what we think they’ll invent and pay them based on the projection of their invention’s societal value. Yes, in Utopia we can compensate people based on their contribution to society but we live on Earth and there is no way to gage said value and a capitalistic model is the way to innovation and advancement. And if society plays a value on being entertained then entertainers (including those that play the sports we love to watch) are going to get paid.

But not only do these people attack the idea that they make so much (which is a reflection on our society and not the athletes) but they attack the athletes themselves. Ask yourself this question: if your boss called you in and told you “I’m going to start paying an annual salary of $20 million a year” would you say “Please no, I’m not worth nearly that much”? Of course not and it would be foolish and perhaps immoral to turn it down. Take the money you think is in excess of your worth and give it to all the causes, charities and people you think deserve it more than you. And if you could start a bidding war for your services wouldn’t you do it? Cause if not for yourself you owe it to your family and your community to get all you can and pour it back into those things you value. For the most part if a business offers you that much you are worth at least that much and they most likely can afford it (or they won’t be in business long). Yet somehow the athletes are at fault for accepting what someone else is willing to offer? Rubbish.

But athletics is such an easy job and they only work half to three quarters of a year. Then those who say it turn around and tell their own kids to focus on things other than athletics because only a very small percentage of athletes make the big bucks. And its not just about natural talent, its about work, constant work. Another value of economics is opportunity cost. To get that last little bit of value costs so much. To be an elite athlete (and if you play for a professional sports team you are elite, even if you are on the Cleveland Browns) the hours and hours of practice and training it takes to put you that little bit above the competition for your spot is enormous. Plus the wear and tear on your body, the risk of injury and the rehab time is all part of the job too. It isn’t just going to practice a bit then hit the field.

They are just self entitled whiny babies that play a game? Tell that to the millions that benefit from the charities and foundations a great number of professional athletes set up. Tell the kid stricken with cancer and her parents that the visit from their favorite athlete has no societal value. Its true that just like nearly every other profession some athletes behave badly but the majority of them not only behave themselves but make their communities better by building libraries, sponsoring after school programs and inspiring young men and women to be better versions of themselves through their example of success through hard work. Not to mention all the personal visits and “Make A Wish” dreams they make come true.

If you believe that athletes are overpaid and other professions are underpaid here’s a suggestion: don’t go to the games or watch them. Take the money you would spend on sports and give it to the person you think deserves a raise. I’m not being mean or facetious, I’m in earnest. Everyone can do something. Vote for politicians that will reallocate resources to allow those who work in underpaid professions such as Armed Service member, police officer, firefighter etc. to get paid more. But don’t blame the athletes for getting what they can. They are just like us and most of them are a net plus for our society even if their job is “playing a kid’s game”.

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