March 26, 2009

Dollars and Sense

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I know that people often read the Sports page to escape the buzz killing articles in the News section. And although I’m sure most people are sick of reading about our flagging economy, I can’t help but allow the current economic situation to inform my thinking about sports. It’s practically blasphemous to say it, especially in this venue, but the recent economic crisis has affected my love of sports. Not my love of Philadelphia sports, obviously, but the sports industry, in general.
I take most umbrage with the outrageous salaries that professional athletes are paid. In a time when people are forced out of their homes or are being laid off from their jobs, it seems even more absurd that professional athletes are being paid WAY more than anyone could possibly need to live comfortably. As my classmates and I frantically try to break into an ever-shrinking job market, most of us are aware that despite our supposedly highly touted Ivy League educations we’ll be lucky to earn modest salaries, at best, in the coming years after graduation.
Thankfully, ESPN has provided an online tool to illustrate my point and add a little insult to injury. “Salary Crunch” is a nifty little doo-dad that allows you to see how long it would take your favorite athletes to earn your yearly salary. Currently, I’m earning negative income so I was forced to enter an average of my potential income next year. At the risk of committing a social faux pas, I’ll reveal that I decided to enter a $30,000 annual salary into the calculator. Lucky for you, I’m not too proud to share the results.
Better known for his days with the Sox, Dodgers’ left fielder Manny Ramirez rakes in an average of $22.5 million dollars a year. It takes Manny .2 games, or .05 homers, or .16 RBI’s, or .74 at bats to earn $30,000 dollars. Basically, that means the longest it would take Manny to earn my potential salary next year is about an inning and a half.

Conversely, it would take me 750 years to earn Manny’s yearly income. 750 years. That is at least eight or nine lifetimes. If Manny and some of his high net worth pals donated a few years worth of income they could easily fund the economic stimulus package or perhaps put a significant dent in it.

More depression ensued when I compared my projected salary to the $28 mil A-Rod made in 2008. Yes, that’s right, despite the steroid scandal and the Madonna fling, based on his season stats, Alexander Rodriguez will still “earn” even more than Manny. Ah, the joy of being the Yankees’ prodigal, if somewhat troublesome, son.
It pains me to write it but it takes A-Rod just .55 at bats, or .04 jacks, or .17 hits to earn a yearly salary that I’m literally praying to receive. You can imagine I was relieved to learn that it would only take me 933.33 years of slave labor to equal a year of baseball for Rodriguez.
Now, I’m fully aware of all the reason why professional athletes like Ramirez and Rodriguez enjoy such incredible cash flow. Talent, crazy schedule, high pressure, market forces, etc. are all great points but when you consider the cost of living a comfortable, even luxurious life it becomes really difficult to rationalize these salaries without using a ton of intimidating economic verbiage. Even if Manny and A-Rod agreed to cut their paychecks by 50 percent they would not notice a significant difference in their standards of living.
On the other hand, $14 million (or, half of A-Rod’s 2008 earnings) could provide 92 students with four full years of tuition at Cornell. Maybe that seems paltry, but imagine if all pro athletes donated half of their salaries for one year. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of kids could receive Ivy League degrees for free.
I know that asking professional athletes to take cuts is not a reasonable solution to any problem. After all, athletes do donate time and funds to charities such as the Make a Wish Foundation, so it’s not as though none of their considerable cash reserves are being put to good use. Still, with all these numbers floating in my head, watching professional sports has become a little lackluster. You could attribute it to an overactive conscious or to naïve idealism, but these days I don’t think it’s out of line to question their love for money over the game.