In a perfect world, one’s salary would reflect one’s relative value to society. What do you contribute? Does your work make the world a better place? What problems do you solve? With such a standard, it would be easy to figure out who’d be taking home the largest paychecks. Teachers, doctors, nurses, and first responders are a few folks who leap to mind.
As we all know, the world we inhabit is anything but perfect. Instead of teachers pulling down seven-figure salaries, athletes, financiers, and attorneys make the big bucks [insert lawyer joke here- please]. Teachers? They’re lucky if they make $50,000 a year. Policeman, firemen, and nurses don’t fare much better. If you’re unable to see the injustice and inequity in that … well, you really should leave your cave in Tora Bora more often, knowhutimean?
What makes this reality more depressing is the recent report that the highest paid public employee in Washington State is a football coach. Not the governor, not a university president, a football coach. Welcome to today’s “WTF??” moment, eh?
Football coaches do perform a service of some value to society. It’s a tough job, one not many people could do well. Nonetheless, is winning a Rose Bowl inherently more valuable than teaching and training the next generation? Is winning football games worth more than a policeman who protects their community from crime and violence? Is scoring touchdowns on Saturday afternoons of greater importance than saving those in danger?
I recognize the impossibility of creating a world in which perfect equity and common sense reign. We live in a world that tolerates all manner of distorted priorities and warped perceptions of heroism. We should elevate those who build, create, inspire, and/or preserve. Instead, our heroes are people who jump higher, run faster, and/or hit harder. Their “achievements” are fleeting, temporary, and of little long-term value. Championships make us happy in the short term, but over the long haul they do little, if anything, to benefit the greater good.
This isn’t merely a Pacific Northwest issue; it’s a problem nationwide. F’rinstance, it’s not uncommon for high school football coaches in Texas to make upwards of $100,000. The Allen Independent School District built a $60 million dollar playground for their high school’s football team … while simultaneously laying off teachers and cutting educational programs. College programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) lavish money on their athletic programs even as educational programs and facilities feel the pinch. The University of Texas athletic department is an industry unto itself, and it’s run like a large company … but how does that benefit the university?
I’m not standing on my soapbox so I can spit into the wind. What I’d like to do is start a conversation. I’d like to get people to look at what roles they value and why. If we could do that, we might begin to understand just how phenomenally back-asswards our collective priorities are.
I'd hazard a guess that we could do without a football coach far more easily than we'd endure the absence of a policeman, a fireman, or a cancer researcher. As Uncle Ed is about to lose his valiant battle with brain cancer, I seriously doubt his final conversation with his doctor will begin with “HOW ‘BOUT THEM DUCKS, EH??”
It will be a great day when a teacher pulls down seven figures and an NBA point guard has to scrimp and save to pay his rent.
Jack Cluth is on Twitter. Follow him at @yuppieskum