Show Me the Money! Are Our Priorities Seriously out of Whack?

Dallas Mavericks Examiner@@AustinMFFLCorrespondent IIIJuly 5, 2012

Athletes often receive praise at the highest levels
Athletes often receive praise at the highest levelsMark Wilson/Getty Images

Though many Americans right now are concerned about the economy, the world of entertainment, which includes sports, somehow gets a pass.

Oh, the irony.

Most of us love sports, no matter what our economic position or our political leanings are, despite the absurdly high paychecks that athletes receive.  Does that mean our priorities are out of whack?

I'm no exception.  I grew up a die-hard Cowboys fan and had season tickets for years.  I've been a Mavericks fan since their inception and was a fervent Celtics fan during the Larry Bird era.  I also grew up loving the Texas Longhorns and continue to have an interest in most UT sports.  

I would not call myself an avid sports nut by any means, but I certainly have more than a parting interest, as evidenced by my presence here.  My kids grew up playing various sports—football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball—and I coached and yelled and screamed on the sideline along with everyone else.

Sports at the K-12 level seem to provide kids with a lot of positive opportunities.  By the time you get to the college level, they also enable some kids to go to college who might not otherwise.

But in the big picture, particularly Division I, it's largely about the money.  To the extent that athletics generate revenue for universities, I can't argue with that.

But what does seem to be an anomaly is the money all of us—rich, poor and in-between—are willing to pour into sports at the professional level.  

To be fair, we spend a lot of money on music, films and other entertainment as well.   Still, now matter how skilled and talented our athletes may be and no matter how hard they work at their craft, by our patronage we do seem to feel that they are much more important to us than, say, teachers.  

While ticket prices continue to go up, I don't think the thousands of people attending each and every game are all wealthy.

Of course, those tickets and the accompanying revenue generated by everything from ad revenue to concession sales provide a lot of jobs, from the front office to ticket takers and everything in-between.  

Team owners, while they may be passionate about the game, aren't in business for their health.  They rightly expect, and are entitled to, a substantial return on a business investment depending on how they run their operation. 

But the one that always stands out, perhaps because it's always in the news, is the athletes themselves.  Recent NBA free agency is no exception as the most prized free agent of the year, Deron Williams, is reportedly going to pull down a cool $98 million over five years.…close to $20 million per year.  

He isn't the first and he won't be the last…easily.  It wasn't that long ago we were marveling over the richest deal to date in professional sports, which has netted Alex Rodriguez substantially more than that, and nobody even likes him!  Too bad he makes more for one game than most people make in a year.

Of course, some of these guys have been given opportunities through sports that they would never have had otherwise. To the extent that many of them have become businessmen, philanthropists and community leaders, that's terrific.  

And to the extent that many of them (not you, Chuck) have acknowledged they are role models and worked on sending a positive message to kids (probably much more so than Hollywood), they have my appreciation.

Still, that's a lot of dough for playing basketball…or if you're Lamar Odom, not playing basketball…but I digress.

Don't get me wrong…I have marveled over the miraculous things Larry Bird has done, ogled over Michael Jordan sailing through the air, the acrobatics of Vince Carter and the seemingly impossible shots made by Dirk Nowitzki.   I watched miraculous runs by Tony Dorsett in person in awe and prayers answered for Joe Montana, and I am amazed that anyone can throw a baseball 100 mph and even more than anyone can hit one coming in.  

I was screaming and jumping up and down when Vince Young crossed the goal line one last time to lead the Horns to victory over USC and win the national championship.  Athletes do amazing things.

On the other hand, they're not, you know...saving anyone's life, right?  I mean, it's not surgery or some act that transforms mankind.  So, you're asking…what exactly is it you're saying, Mr. Hypocrite Philosopher?

Well, the truth is, I don't know.  The human race has a fixation with entertaining ourselves and sports is a big part of that.  

Do I wish we could find some sort of middle ground between compensating those who nurture our kids with relatively little compared to the guys who hit a ball with a big wooden stick?  Sure I do.  

But unlike most of the pieces I write, I really don't have any conclusions to offer.  This is just a piece to make you think.  Don't hurt is a contact sport.