I’m with the Associated Press’ Tim Dahlberg to the extent he’s critical of those who are lauding Cliff Lee for making some sort of financial sacrifice to go to the Phillies. Sure, there’s a bit less guaranteed money, but we’re not in sainthood territory here.
Dahlberg completely loses me, however, when he goes off on a jag about how the money going to Lee could be better used for charities benefiting children in Africa. After listing several examples of how far the money Cliff Lee will make for a single game can go if spent for humanitarian purposes, Dahlberg writes:
I’m not picking on Lee, who is simply the latest poster player for what ails sports. It’s a seller’s market in baseball and anyone who can sell themselves for $120 million certainly has the right to do so.
But I’m also not going to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize for leaving behind a pile of money (much less than $30 million, actually, after agent fees and taxes). His salary is still so far out of whack with that of paying fans, even Lee had to acknowledge that much.
I agree that, as a society, we have some pretty skewed priorities. I also agree that there is no better time to think about these sort of things than around Christmastime. I was out doing my shopping last night and was struck, as I am every time I venture out into retail land, at how much waste and karma is floating around.
But why are we singling out Cliff Lee and “poster players” here? Where is the outrage for the ownership group who parlayed a $30 million investment in the Phillies 30 years ago into a $500 million+ business today? Where is the outrage for baseball as a whole, which is now a $7 billion industry? Why are their revenues not too much to take? Why doesn’t Dahlberg write an editorial saying that Bill Giles’ income is “out of whack,” and calculating how many mosquito nets the Phillies’ annual revenues could supply to a village in west Africa?
The fact is that baseball is a huge business and the players with elite talents are the biggest reason for it. Why shouldn’t they reap financial rewards for it? Why are they singled out as greedy when the owners and executives are making even more? For that matter, isn’t it the case that everyone who makes a living off of a game is taking money that could, ideally, be better spent feeding starving children? I make my living as a result of baseball. I bought a Blu-Ray player last night. That was nowhere near as productive a use of my money as providing malnourished children with specially formulated peanut paste. I’m guessing Dahlberg has used his salary for a few things besides charity as well.
Yes, it is mind-boggling and a bit depressing that our society values entertainment so highly and humanitarian efforts so little by comparison. But neither Cliff Lee’s salary nor any other individual player’s salary was the tipping point on that. Nor is he the proper target for complaints like Dahlberg’s. Even if one is going to limit his targets to professional sports figures, there are bigger fish to fry than Lee.
Dahlberg’s failure to acknowledge that suggests that he’s less concerned about our priorities as a society and more interested in using emotionally-manipulative examples to make a tired old “ballplayers make too much damn money for playing a kids game!” argument, the likes we’ve heard for decades, and I find that to be pretty shameful.