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Ken Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard, recently wrote a column accusing sports fans of hypocrisy because of their “blasé acceptance of the salaries of sports stars,” when those same fans react negatively to the salaries and bonuses of people on Wall Street…If a star basketball player reacts a split-second faster than his competitors, no one has a problem with his earning more for every game than five factory workers do in a year. But if, say, a financial trader or a corporate executive is paid a fortune for being a shade faster than competitors, the public suspects that he or she is undeserving or, worse, a thief.
True? maybe. Overly simplistic? Absolutely.
Surprisingly, Rogoff, who labels himself a fan of Jeremy Lin and basketball, misses several key points on why the public is more accepting of sports salaries.
Fans Can Relate To Athletes
Most sports fans played sports or know people that have played sports. And that gives fans a direct knowledge of how difficult it is to compete at the highest level, and a greater appreciation for what it is that the best athletes do.
Fans Are More Directly Responsible For Athlete Salaries
Fans buy tickets. They purchase jerseys and caps. They watch the games on television and listen on the radio. That money filters almost directly into the pockets of the athletes, and fans can clearly understand the relationship and how their money influences the sports they enjoy.
Fans Benefit More Directly From Sports
Simply put, sports fans enjoy sports. We enjoy going to games and watching games on television. We enjoy what the athletes are able to do. There is a direct benefit that fans receive from sports in the form of emotion and entertainment. Just like a movie star, fans don’t mind the salaries because they are doing something for us.
Careers Of Professional Athletes Are Short
The vast majority of professional athletes are making close to the league minimum (~$500,000 in the NBA). Sure that is still a lot more than most Americans. But then consider that the average NBA career is less than five years. And most fans understand that a player’s career could be over on the next play. As a result, many fans understand that a player must get as much as he can with each contract.
But Most Importantly, Many Fans Do Loathe High Salaries
How often have we heard somebody say “he should be more grateful, I would play for free,” which would be true for about two weeks. Then that person would see how much money everybody else is making, and would want their cut. But I digress.
The fact is, fans do complain about the prices to go see games. They do complain about players becoming “soft” and “privileged.” And they absolutely complain when a player chooses one team over another just because one offered more money.
Of course, none of this necessarily makes it ok to accept the pay of athletes and hate Wall Streeters. But to suggest that sports fans are “blasé” and “tolerate outsized sports incomes,” is to miss the picture entirely.
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