It’s About Priorities; Sports Culture and Education in America

Don’t get me wrong.  I absolutely love sports.  And my sports resume is impeccable.  High school football, basketball and baseball, college intramural gym rat extraordinaire, sixteen seasons of coaching middle school and high school basketball, 4 year involvement with AAU basketball coaching, over the top college football fan, and amateur college basketball obsessive full of far too much twisted recruiting information and arcane facts, along with  2 children who have been recruited to play college sports.  (By the way, the picture above was chosen because not because it is representative of the problem with sports culture, but because my partner of many years is clearly seen in the background, my daughter’s little head is peeking up to view this unseemly violence and I am sitting to the right of the photo crop- excellent photo editing.  All of this is simply more evidence of my impeccable sports background.)

However, something clearly has gone awry.

The Penn State situation makes this obvious.  If you are still reading, I think it’s safe to assume that you know about the Penn State situation so I won’t waste your time covering that at all.  (However, if you’re interested in some great analysis, check out Ira Socol’s blog.)

What needs to be recognized, is that Penn State is symptom.  That situation is symptom of a crazed cultural obsession with sports, and the ways in which this obsession leads to an incredible imbalance.

For an example of all that is right about college sports, I give you Tom Izzo.  I absolutely love Tom Izzo.  His coaching represents everything that’s right with college basketball.  He doesn’t cheat.  His kids graduate.  He sets boundaries.  He cares deeply about them as more than basketball players.

He is wonderful.  I could go on and on about how great Tom Izzo is.

And he makes over $3 million dollars a year from Michigan State University.

He’s a coach.

Let’s compare this to the average teacher salary of $57,958 in 2011.

When we look at Izzo’s overall mission and compare that to your average teacher, they seem fairly similar.  Izzo’s fundamental task is to give instruction to young men for the sake of their betterment and for the betterment of the team.  A teacher’s task is to create an environment that allows for the betterment of the students in that teacher’s care and for the betterment of society.  Granted, there are differences of scale between Izzo and the average teacher, but these differences of scale have to do more with our society’s obsessive attention to sports rather than  attention to, for instance, the conditions of poverty that a teacher may have to work with.

Izzo receives his salary at a time when public funding for higher education is at a 25 year low.  As a result of decreased state funding, tuition and fees have increased by over 70% for public, four-year colleges. In spite of protests from the far right, the national tax rate is extremely low at home and internationally.  Our national priorities have shifted from funding the public good to funding private corporations.  This has occurred across state and county governments, and across the board in k-12 and high education.  All of this, while, as this article from the Detroit Free Press points out, the salary of a charter school CEO grows to  over $500,000.  The same article references  “…non-profit schools in the U.S. with revenues of $20 million annually…”  (Excuse me, but how do “non-profit schools” have revenues that high, while they pay their CEO’s that much, while public school funding continues to be cut?)

We continue to hear about the need to cut teacher pensions and salaries..

And we continue to see coaches’ salaries increase.

I’m starting to think that there is enough money to pay for what our priorities are, it’s just that our priorities seem bit confused.

What are we really about?

I’m not arguing that teachers should be making 3 million a year.  I’m also not necessarily arguing that Tom Izzo shouldn’t be making 3 million a year.  I am arguing that these price tags are representative of value choices that we make.  We make these choices when we buy tickets, when we buy Doritos for our Superbowl viewing, and when we do or do not pay taxes.  In one way or another, we are making societal investments.  You can call these investments a tax, you can call them increased tuition costs, you can call them expensive tickets on Stub Hub.  But we are paying a cost.  I am arguing that we need to be aware of what these investments are and why we are choosing to make them.  And we need to be aware of who is benefiting from these choices (note my Doritos reference) and who is not.

Think about it.


2 responses to “It’s About Priorities; Sports Culture and Education in America

  1. Societies show what they value fairly clearly. The highest paid public employee… by far… in most US states is a football or basketball coach. The highest paid individual employees are people who place bets on stocks and financial securities for others (I believe the term is “bookies”).

    This is neither “right” nor “wrong” but it does demonstrate what Americans value, not people who make things, not the teachers responsible for developing our future, not the police or firefighters who risk their lives to make us safe, not the soldiers and sailors who do our dirtiest work so we need not worry, but Tom Izzo (for all the good he does), and Nick Saban, and those betting at Goldman-Sachs and JP Morgan.

    It is thus fair to say that America worships money, and thrills to bread and circuses, and isn’t too keen on the future, our own safety, or even our future.

    You cannot argue with these statistics.

  2. Sports= distractionism at its finest. (I am not anti sports either just the way sports and sports figures are treated in modern day society).

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