I was sitting at my desk, working on some research for an article I'm writing, and something occurred to me: I'm in the wrong line of work. If only I were a professional athlete, instead of a professor, then I might really be making the big bucks. It was announced earlier today that the Philadelphia Phillies are about to pay free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper $330 million for a thirteen year contract. And last week, another outfielder, Manny Machado, signed with the San Diego Padres and got a contract that pays him $300 million for ten years. And it's not just major league baseball: over in the National Basketball Association, the highest paid player is Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, whose $36 million annual salary may not sound like much, but it's part of a $201 million, five year contract. I could go on, but you get the idea.
I don't begrudge top athletes a huge payday-- although as a fan, it frustrates me that the price of tickets continues to climb. At Fenway Park in Boston, for example, the cheapest seats (way out in the bleachers) can cost about $30 (not including parking or food); grandstand seats are about $60; and box seats can be as much as $90, depending on who's playing. (Many other parks are just as expensive.) In other words, if parents want to take their kids to see a major league game, it can end up costing nearly $300... not something the average working person can afford. And here's how things have changed: when I was fifteen years old, back in 1962, my father took me to a major league game and he paid about $2.25 each for grandstand seats. Those were the days.
But this is what absolutely mystifies me: why do we pay professional athletes so much, and teachers and professors so little by comparison? Yes, I know there are so-called "celebrity professors" who make huge salaries, but they are the exception. Salaries for college instructors are often so low that they have to cobble together assignments at three or four schools, just to make ends meet. As for elementary, middle-school, and high school teachers, their salaries in some cities are as little as $40,000 a year. And as I've mentioned on more than one occasion, many teachers have to pay for school supplies out of their own pocket. And let's not even get into how little we pay the folks who teach for Head Start, or work in daycare centers. (By the way, teachers at Charter Schools aren't exactly getting rich either.)
And yet, as a culture, we claim that children matter. We insist we want the best for our kids. We say we want them to have good teachers and go to successful schools. And we expect that the teachers will work long hours and produce students who get good test scores. (By the way, test scores are not the only way to measure whether kids are learning, but that's a topic for another day.) So, how do teachers feel when professional teams come up with the money to pay a star athlete millions of dollars, but most school districts are constantly expecting teachers to do more with less? What message does it send when we value star athletes so much more than we value the folks whose job it is to educate our children? I'm happy for Bryce Harper, and other talented professional ballplayers. But I truly don't understand why we wouldn't want to spend $330 million fixing up old public school buildings, buying new books and supplies, and upgrading teacher pay. I'm sure someone has a good explanation for such skewed priorities. I'd be eager to hear it.