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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Here's The Pitch

First, let me proclaim a personal history of passionate interest in sports. I have competed in sports, in high school (soccer, basketball, and baseball), college (soccer), and for several years beyond college. In particular, I have played at high levels of competition in soccer throughout the country. I have been an avid spectator and fan. My life-long loyalty to all of the professional teams in Detroit attests to my devotion (yes, even the Lions!! and no, I've never been in Michigan, much less Detroit - it's a long story). I can proudly recite statistics of all kinds and vigorously engage in debates about the best players, proposed trades, controversial officiating calls, and the best teams of all-time. I have been an active participant in fantasy baseball leagues for several years now. My collection of sports cards is further evidence of an infatuation with athletics.

However, I can't fathom the blatant disconnect between the economic reality gripping our nation (high unemployment, fiscal uncertainty, constant news of lay-offs, anxiety about the future...) and the ever increasing and obscene salaries thrown at professional athletes (for example, Cliff Lee's 120 million dollar contract for five years of work with the Philadelphia Phillies reported last night). In as much as I would have loved the Detroit Tigers to add Lee to their roster, and I have never read anything scandalous about Lee nor anything that would detract from his character - I'm sure he's a great guy who possesses incredible skill in pitching a baseball - I simply can't rationalize someone being paid so much at a time of such need. I know that his salary begets a large number of other jobs too many to count (his agent, stadium workers, auxiliary services and products...) but it still lacks the impact of, let's say, a cancer researcher discovering a new cure, an inventor developing an innovation that saves vast amounts of energy, a diplomat who averts war and strife with deft political strategies, - you get the point.

Let me put it this way. I am responsible for crafting a budget that effectively balances the ability of our community to provide financial resources with the needs of our learners to acquire the skills and knowledge that will allow them to improve our future. Our budget for this year is just under 7 million dollars. This covers the entire cost of educating 330 learners, from soup to nuts, from utility costs, salaries, supplies, debt service on a building project, technology, and a long list of other expenses. In other words, Cliff Lee's 24 million dollar a year salary (to pitch every fifth game - about 32 regular season games of approximately seven innings per game and an average of 100 pitches thrown, or roughly $7,500 per pitch - yikes!!) is over three times what it will cost to nurture the growth of 330 learners in pursuit of dreams and hopes in Green Island for one year. We could support the budget and educational program for our school community for three years with what Lee makes in a single year. I don't mean to pick on Cliff Lee. Who among us would turn down that amount of money? He certainly isn't the only baseball player or professional athlete who receives huge sums of money - and let's not forget that they couldn't make this much money unless the owners were also profiting in the business. And the entertainment industry is full of similar tales of excess.

At any rate, there's no other way to articulate this but to say - this is crazy!!

What does this suggest about the priorities of our society? How come virtually every page of the newspaper provides doom and gloom, from headlines of lost jobs and foreclosures to classifieds with too few advertisements for those searching for hope - and then you turn to the sports pages (or entertainment section) on any given day and find multi-million dollar salaries being reported as if people were using play monopoly money - and nobody seems to be disturbed by the sharp contrast. It's more amusing than the comic strips! I guess we only have ourselves to blame as long as enough people are willing to fork over hard earned money for tickets (and exorbitantly priced concessions and parking), special cable channels, overpriced game jersey's...

Me - I'm losing interest because of the ridiculous and ever increasing disparity between life and sports, reality and fantasy - and I'm worried about being able to convince taxpayers of the benefits of supporting an educational program that is more likely to produce the next great difference maker (inventor, medical researcher, everyday hero, or diplomat) than it is to produce the next great game breaker like Cliff Lee or Tom Brady or LeBron James or Tiger Woods.

That's my pitch for you to take a swing at.

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