I would like to set the record straight, in advance. I’m not a “hater.” I am not a jealous person, except when it comes to my envy of those who can enjoy an ocean cruise without vomiting. I understand the value of sports as a way to entertain the masses and keep professional athletes out of bars until all of the “regular folks” are home watching Survivor. I love sports. My wife would tell you that I am a fanatic. She knows, because she is one, too. I follow six people on Twitter. Three are political reporters and three are local sports beat writers who tell me what Steve Nash ate for dinner, which, for the record, is usually chicken. So, I say this as a sympathizer to the athletic cause and with respect to the spirit of competition: Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and some other guy who isn’t Lebron James or Dwayne Wade, all recently agreed to deals worth a collective 300 million dollars. That is what the market bore. Add endorsement dollars, and we are talking millions, minus the “m,” but with a “b.”
In case you skipped my first paragraph to get to the “good stuff below,” let me repeat in summary form: 300 million dollars. Three guys. They put a ball in a hole.
Let me be clear, watching people put inflated orange balls into holes has provided me with hours of passionate entertainment, but that is a lot of money in a down economy. If Lebron and company lived at Versailles, I can’t help but think we’d all be storming its gates wearing peasant dresses while holding torches and pitchforks. (For the record, my dress would be a “kilt,” which is simply a plaid dress, yet very manly.)
Millions of people tuned into ESPN to watch Mr. James announce his decision about where he was choosing to play. The networks loved it. Nike, who sponsors Mr. James, loved it. Actually, only the people of Cleveland didn’t love it. But, even they tuned in to watch, just to see how bitter they would need to be the next day. It turns out, they are all mostly Browns fans, so they are always bitter. But, this certainly didn’t help.
Here’s the point. I get the free market economy concept. I understand that the money will be generated to pay these contracts because people will buy the products the athletes endorse, pay premium dollars to go their games, and load up on new Miami Heat jerseys with “James,” “Wade,” or “The Third Guy” stitched on the back. Sadly, most teachers who are NBA fans will be buying Lebron jerseys, as well. However, they will be on the clearance racks in and around Cleveland and they won’t say, “Miami” on the front.
Economics is a complicated topic with some heavy vocabulary: Free markets, yields, stocks, bonds, commodities, hedge funds, and Gordon Gecko. I’m an educator, not an economist, even though I’m pretty good at stretching a school budget. I realize that I’m comparing apples to oranges and that there are a thousand good reasons why this is what it is. I even fully understand some of those reasons. But, I still can’t shake the fact that I have teachers leaving the profession because childcare literally costs more money than the total of their paycheck, even after ten years in the profession. Others simply can’t make ends meet. And, in case you missed it, three basketball players are getting nearly 300 million dollars. I hate to be radical, but I think our children are worth more than that. How is it that with many states facing the largest budget deficits in history and being forced to lay off teachers, we can get our priorities this wrong? If that is what the market bares during the deepest recession in our nation’s history, isn’t there something wrong with the market?