November 15, 2006

Where The Money Goes

It's been raining hard all day, mixed with brief periods of sunshine, heavy wind, and longer periods of pea-sized hail. My original plans for the day foiled, I've stayed home, in the semi-warmth and coziness of our living room, browsing the internet news and reading.

I ran across
this article that worried me a little. In seemingly unrelated news, the G20 conference comes to Melbourne this weekend. The G20 is a collection of money guys from the major financial nations around the world who get together once a year somewhere to discuss global economics and the choices they have to make for the following year. This year it's in Melbourne.

For this some people are happy, because it means that they get to do the protesting they've been dying to do, but which travel costs have prevented in years past. You may recall a
previous post on protesting; I'm not much in favor of it because I don't believe that it really helps anybody, but instead, gets a lot of people emotionally riled-up at somebody else and rarely ends peacefully.

However, the protesting that many are planning seems to be slightly more productive than I had originally envisioned. While some seem to be in it just to make a statement to the G20,
others seem more focused on raising public awareness, and if the G20 pay attention, then so much the better. This I can agree with. But aside from raising awareness, I'm still not sure that demonstrating outside the G20 meeting is going to help much. I think bigger action is needed.

Back to the first article, before you think I'm advocating bombing somebody. I've been getting this uncomfortable feeling about our society lately, and the article about the Red Sox just made it worse: we spend a lot of money on frivolties and entertainment. And it's not just like, a hundred dollars more or something. The Red Sox spent $42 million on the rights just to
BID for a player! This isn't even his salary, this is just so that they can try and convince him to play for them. I'm sure he's a great pitcher and all that, but it seems a bit like overkill.

Even so, I'm not sure that it's even their fault. I mean, sure, a bunch of baseball execs could conceivably decide to forego paying a better player and instead donate the money to charity or to some doctors or a cancer-research foundation or something. I think they could do that, but I don't think that it ever crossed their minds. But that's not the point.

How, I wonder, did these baseball teams (or football, or rugby, or basketball, or soccer, or any other pro sport teams) get the sort of finances to be able to casually spend $42 million bidding for one guy? Where did that money come from? Did they win the lotto? Not really. Besides, it never pays that well and most of the money goes back to the government anyway. Did they rob a bank? Maybe, but still unlikely.

No, the money came because they can charge a lot of money for people to come watch the games, and for companies to advertise at their games. All that money goes into their big portfolios. That's where it comes from. So what does that mean?

It means that Americans and Australians and Kiwis and Brits and Germans and Frenchpeople and everybody else who are "western" pay a lot of money every year just to see a bunch of guys play games. The teams make lots of money and pay their players a lot of money, who in turn spend their vast amounts of money on things like fast cars, big parties, big houses, and on lots of other stuff that I probably don't even know about.

I know, the games are fun to watch (I myself like NRL and MLB; I'm a Melbourne Storm fan and a NY Yankees fan), and often bring lots of people together in "community." So do village leagues and community sport leagues. But I can think of lots of other things to spend money on other than the salary of a team of guys that have so much they don't know what to do with it all. For instance, there are people who aren't sure if they'll get food each day - they could use some of it. There are doctors who wish they could afford to live in Africa and treat medical conditions for people there who can't afford it. They could use it too. How about the orphans and refugees in Thailand that came from Burma? They have nothing, not even a country to call their own - I bet they'd appreciate it.

Have you ever heard the excuse "I'm not giving any money to the begger on the street because he'll probably just go spend it on alcohol and drugs"? But then, why do we give our money to the pro sports players, who then go and ... spend it on alcohol and drugs? It doesn't make sense to me.

I'm not saying we get rid of pro sports. I'm saying maybe it's time to think about paying them less. I'm sure that a pro sportsman could afford to make only $1 million a year (I just said "only" to a million dollars a year, that's sad) instead of $30 million or $300 million or whatever they make. I imagine that it might do a lot of people some good to see those pros give up their ritzy lifestyles for the good of others.

Just think: if one team gave up the salary of one player each year and payed their players even just a little bit less, that's millions of dollars to go towards cancer research and AIDS research and relief efforts in third-world countries. That is SO MUCH MONEY!!!

My trouble is this: I don't know how to go about doing this. Does anybody have any ideas where we could start? Seriously, I'm asking for anybody who might agree with me to start thinking, maybe post a few ideas in the comments section. I think that if it ever worked, we'd do a lot of good for a lot of people.


Anonymous said...

Chris - update the bosox paid $51.1 million ($42 being a warmup?)

Goodness knows what the extra $100,000 is for. But, $51.1 million is the total.

Anonymous said...

Actually have a response to this up on my site:

shawna said...

Didn't baseball have a strike some years ago because they were going to put a salary cap on or something?? Made everyone a little (or alot) sick. I dont know... how do you convince the baseball players -- or whoever (we'll have to go with a US sport because they don't make nearly as much money over here) to give up their paychecks? I don't think guilting them into it will work. Maybe we could kidnap a team and drop them in the middle of a thrid world country, make them work in an orphanage??

Anonymous said...

How much is someones privacy worth? I don't agree with the players getting paid these ridiculous amounts, but those players paid that much usually are under the media scrutiny 24 hours a day. If we were to pay them less then they would have less money to spend on greedy lawyers chasing invasion of privacy by the paparazzi - which DOES add up into the millions - and also having to take the expensive way around everything. I can imagine you would have no choice but to go first class when travelling, you would have no choice in trying to use extreme means to protect your family etc.

Of course there is too much money still being spent on them - instead of attacking them about being capitalist pigs as most people seem to want to do - why not put those people that genuinely do good (donating/honest charity work/etc) up on a pedestal instead of rich slappers/hotel fortune heiresses and the like. I think that instead of going after the politicians, or the sports people, go after the people that have real influence over society. The Media.

Chris said...

shawna - I agree, we'll dump them into Thailand or something. Maybe a slightly more legal solution would be better ... course, it's probably legal over in Thailand, so that could be our argument. ;) Maybe we should start with those players who COME from impoverished countries like Cuba or ... well, most of Latin America ... and see how they might start with making the plight of others public.

Anonymous - To be perfectly honest, I find that the sports players tend to have more influence over society than politicians do, simply because they were "normal" people that made it big. The point is that I don't want to "go after" anybody but to perhaps convince people in positions of great influence and great wealth to start supporting others who have neither of those things.

And privacy? Not sure how you mean exactly, but I imagine that the main reason they're so watched is that they've got so much money ... the media LOVES it when people with lots of money get in trouble with one thing or the other: actors, actresses, sports stars, people with INFLUENCE.

And I'm not attacking them as "capitalist pigs," I too am part of the capitalist system and don't think I'd ever choose socialism simply because it doesn't really work that well ... in a capitalist society I can choose to give my hard-earned money to somebody else, but in a socialist society, it's all taken for me and given to who the government sees fit, which often enough isn't who I want it to go to.

The media ... interesting thought. I know that in some places the media is doing what it can to hilite the good in society ... in my home city, for instance, there's a spot on channel 10 called "positively Rochester" that hilites people in the community for doing good things, starting new charities, helping out the poor, that sort of thing. It's not unheard of, just really really really rare (as it is in sports).

If you can think of a way to influence the media, then I'm all ears, but it seems to me that the people who are less like vultures (the sports stars) are the ones to try and convince. And often, the media just reports what gets good ratings, and since the people with money and power are the ones who people are INTERESTED in, they're the people the media follow. Give them a good story (usually involving sex or radical change or something) and they'll pounce. I think that a team giving up their salaries to sponsor amnesty international or a doctor in Africa might actually make the news. But it'll only start to change people if they hear about it on a regular basis.

One last thing - I totally agree with you about congratulating those people that do genuinely good things for those in need. I started a website some time ago for stories of the unsung heroes that I see, but I've not added to it in quite some time. Why, you ask? Because I've not seen many examples of heroism of late to celebrate. I'm not sure if this is me with a short attention span or if the heroism happens when I'm not around ... or not at all ... but it's bit disappointing to me.

Anonymous said...

Ok I'll jump in again.

Athletes are paid all this money but lets not put the horse before the cart. Why in the heck are they able to pull down that kind of money? Baseball just became a $5 Billion (yes with a "b") sport. Not the NFL, but that's a heaping chunk of change.

Now do the players "do" that? Well they play. But we're the ones who want to watch the games, who buy the merchandise, who eagerly follow (to get at Anonymous's point) the paprazi (those magazines at the checkout DO sell), etc.

I mean yes it's easy to blame them for the problems - because as always it's easier to look at the speck in someone's eye than ourselves. I mean some contracts are extremely charity focused while they make a very comfortable living.

And Chris many players (especially the Latin American contingent) are deeply involved in programs to help their home towns. Roberto Clemente has an award named after him because of his charitable service (actually died in a plane crash trying to bring aid). Mariano Rivera - closer for the Yankees - goes to extreme lengths to try and help his home country of Panama.

So the efforts are there, but it is a fallen and human world that in the end is being geared towards ourselves. Again, we're using our $5 to buy X product from the team, not using it for a charity.

And I mean imagine what we're saying deep down - you have all that money so it should be easy for you to do it (give to charity etc.). Amazing how we always want others to do the heavy lifting of charity (or the fact God hints that true charity won't be easy at all). I'm preaching to the choir here (I have plenty to do in my own neck of the woods) I guess I don't think getting down on ballplayers is the way to go.

Yes they make obscene amounts of money - but it is a marketplace and by each of our individual choices we've said "it's ok for you to make that much - because we'll give you the revenue to make that contract work"

Chris said...

Ok, to be honest, what I've heard so far from people is that they think this is not possible, that we should do the seemingly easier thing and "work on ourselves" instead. Maybe I shouldn't just assume this, but I think that God is ALWAYS asking us to be more generous and more giving and more sacrificing of ourselves. Biblically, it's a given.

What I'm saying is, in ADDITION to being more personally generous, how can we start to solve the problem? It's nice to say that if we're more generous, and we're better people, that one day the problem might go away because people start following our example. But let's be honest; unless we actually WORK with them towards that end, it will never happen.

I don't see the bible saying "work on yourself, everybody else fend for themselves," I see Jesus telling us to work with each other. It's in helping others that we help ourselves, and "working on ourselves" puts ourselves too far in the front. We give what we have, but alone we are nothing; it's only in community that we really can make a difference. How do we make the sports stars part of that community?

Anonymous said...

Point taken chris - you are looking at this more holistically (as in wholeness)

So two responses. First is - as I've tried to get at I don't think you can do that externally too much without screwing up a ton more in the process. Especially if the process sets a precedent for something worse to go on (trying to think of an analogy but it isn't working)

Second, God I think has given us that holistic method. His Church - the Body of Christ that is to act in union. So maybe there needs to be more ecunma...whatever that word is :-P for churches coming together - but separate it from issues that made them divergent sects in the first place. Maybe generally churches coming together to help the poor - not so much as a "look at what our church is doing as part of OUR mission budget" but coming together as a church body to help all in a more concrete manner. And then if you want to get the ballplayers in (though a number of them are Christians - the Yankees had/have a bible study group with players) the normal ways of trying to witness so they can join a church (which is now recognizing its connection to the larger body) to maximize the good it can do.

Maybe that provides the balance of individual/group ethic that you're looking for...

Chris said...

I think that's what I'm looking for, yeah, sort of ...

And yet, as I read your comment, the first thing that came to my head was "aw damn, we're screwed." It's not that I think it's a bad idea, far from it - it's exactly the sort of thing that the scriptures say, that God asks of us as a global church - it's just that I don't really see it happening. Sometimes I do, like the Salvation Army, but mostly we get what you said, the individual churches using mission like an attraction to pluck at the heart strings of compassionate non-Christians and drag them into "a church that cares." It's becoming more and more rare that mission is done solely because that's what Jesus wanted ... more and more we're looking for the little "fringe benefits" of higher attendance and larger tithes. And it's just not the point. And that's why I felt sad, because I feel like as much as some of us try to encourage that in our churches, they really don't get the vision at all. Did you know that most traditional and evangelical churches use 97-99% of their budgets solely on themselves?

I guess I was looking for ideas outside the box, where even Christians would see that "see, somebody that's not a follower of Jesus is doing things that Jesus would want, maybe we shouldn't let them be better Jesus followers than us!" and a sort of healthy competition would happen that would move the world into a race against poverty. I know that it's a bit of a pipe-dream, but I suppose with God, anything's possible ...