So the University of Missouri basketball coach of the last five seasons, Mike Anderson, is exchanging Tigers for Razorbacks. He goes to become head basketball coach of the University of Arkansas. We can all wish him well. He did, after all, have a good run at Mizzou, a fine record of wins and losses. Missouri fans are sad and the Arkansas ones are happy.
Some have made a big deal out of the fact that just a few weeks previously Mr. Anderson talked about retiring at Mizzou, so in love was he with the people, program and place. Gee, where is his loyalty, they pined.
There is a sub text in the whole story that is, I think, the real story.
After negotiating with the University of Missouri for a seven year deal of $2 million a year, the coach just couldn’t pass up the larger offer of Arkansas of $2.2 million a year, also over seven years. That $.2 million a year adds up over seven years. It could make you love wild boars and want to be near them.
But let’s not haggle over a measly $200,000 a year difference. Rather, let’s return to the basic idea that no one is talking about. Here is a man, not unusual among his peers in salary, that is making over $2 million a year. He’s coaching a basketball team. Let’s just hold that number in our minds for a moment, let it float there as we do a little comparison.
Now we’re thinking about the average teacher’s compensation. You remember, don’t you? These are the evil teachers who wanted to have some collective bargaining when it comes to their salary and benefits. Golly, some of them might make $50,000 a year. Imagine. What excess.
But pick your profession, something that really matters. Now hold up that position and its salary and let it dangle right beside the basketball coach’s $2 million a year. Can you see them both? Do you have them sitting right next to one another? Good. Now hold them there.
If the word obscene comes to mind it may emanate from the part of the brain or psyche or heart preoccupied with values, with what things mean, how fairness and justice is regarded. It’s the same place that gets all excited when you see the vast difference between the wages of corporate CEOs and others in the corporate food chain, the ones whose benefits need to be reduced as the execs, the ones who may have directly contributed to the recent economic melt down, are rewarded with more bonuses and stock and salary. Do you feel that little area right in the center of your forehead? No, you’re not imagining it. There is a tingling sensation that won’t go away. That, friend, is the tingle of outrage in the face of conspicuous unfairness.
I wish we could just pack that up and send it to Arkansas permanently. But we can’t, because it’s mobile, portable. It is a pan-American reality that trickled down from the pros after athletes became stars and television shaped everything we know about sport. Like Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinal’s golden boy. Even his well-heeled team mates and church connected friends are starting to ask questions. Why isn’t a contract for $300 million enough? Even with a nice foundation that Pujols started, something to give a moral nerve to the excess, why aren’t those numbers high enough?
The answer is simple, though we don’t want to say the words, either on the professional or collegiate level of sports. We are just as afraid to call into question the vast gap between a CEO’s salary and benefits and those of a worker.
Here are the words you are searching for: It is immoral.
But we enable it – all of us – by what we continue to support, purchase, and protect, personally and politically.
You know that little place in the center of your forehead that’s buzzing? Listen to it. There is something it wants to tell you.