September 26, 2003

Athlete Compensation and the Color Purple

Posted by shonk at 03:13 PM in Sports | TrackBack

I was reading about Emmit Smith's comments in support of Maurice Clarett over at Off Wing Opinion and I couldn't help thinking that Clarett's situation is likely to cause a bit of confusion among certain segments of society. On the one hand, Clarett is a young black man who The Man is trying to prevent from entering the NFL (and collecting untold riches). On the other hand, he's eventually going to get paid millions to run around with a ball under his arm while other people try to hurt him.

The compensation that athletes get is a sore spot for a lot of people, since people who do much more society-enhancing jobs, like teachers, get paid far less than athletes. I'm not going to engage in this particular normative argument, but would rather like to dispell certain myths surrounding this issue. First and foremost, this disparity in compensation between athletes and teachers is often trotted out as evidence of the shallowness and irresponsibility of Americans and the supposedly materialist American culture. While it is true that the high compensation garnered by athletes in America is a function of the aggregate values of Americans, it's folly to suppose that it is only American culture which promotes this sort of thing. In fact, in every country I can think of, athletes are better compensated than teachers. Certainly this is true throughout Europe, as evidenced by the amount paid to soccer stars like David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane. It's also true in Africa, as we can see from the preferential treatment afforded to members of the Nigerian national soccer team or runners like Hicham El Guerrouj or South Africa's elite rugby players. In Asia, we need only look to Pakistani and Indian field hockey or cricket stars, Japanese baseball players or any number of other examples. Even in Communist countries, which supposedly have values diametrically opposite to the stereotypical "American" values, world-class athletes, be they Cuban baseball players, Chinese gymnasts or Red Army hockey players from the old USSR, receive special attention and special perks. Of course, in many of these countries, the disparity between athlete compensation and teacher compensation is less, but then again in most of those same countries teachers are more poorly compensated than they are in the US.

My point is not to say that athletes ought to be paid much better than teachers, but rather to point out that virtually every society known to man does exactly that. So complain about it all you like (or better yet, do something about it), but don't chalk it up as another example of the stupidity of Americans.

Since I'm sure two sports-related entries in a single week are proving disconcerting for some of my audience, here's a more stereotypical blog entry:

One other thing that I realized today, but which doesn't really merit a separate entry, is that the color purple seems to play an integral part in my life. Through what I think is a series of coincidences, both my bike and my skis (probably my two most valuable possessions in terms of original purchase price other than my computer) are purple, and the primary school color of my undergraduate university was purple. I purchased both the bike and the skis used; in each case the only suitable model available at the time came in purple. And I never even thought about school colors in deciding where to attend college. Still and all, these sorts of coincidences are unnerving.