Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Va-reality Check

Jason Varitek has provided Red Sox fans with terrific service over the past decade. He has caught four no-hitters, and most importantly was the catcher on a pair of World Series Champions. Like Clint Eastwood, he may merit a "Lifetime Achievement" award.

Chart of U.S. Unemployment
But there's more than meets the "I" here. The "little people", the Great Unwashed of the proletariat, are suffering as they have not for eight decades. Unemployment, using cold, unenhanced data (government statistics have a tendency to shift unpredictably) approaches numbers not seen since the Depression (peaked at 24.6%).

Free market proponents (I am one) encourage professional athletes and other entertainers to reap the benefits to which their unique status entitles them. If a free agent can find someone to pay him top dollar and multiple years, so be it. We can understand how players fear getting "left behind". But how many players have refunded part of their salary for underperformance, injury or illness? Curt Schilling left some money on the table, but also collected the lion's share despite his illness. That is simply how baseball works. No objections and no regrets come from this corner.

But anything less than gracious comments from players who earn (at a minimum) five or more times than a school teacher or a nurse, simply fall on deaf ears.

A murder-suicide took the lives of an entire family today where the breadwinners were fired and tragically destroyed an entire family. The elderly often cannot afford either their medication or proper food under economic strain. Families struggle to pay food bills and meet mortgage payments or lose their homes. Students cannot return to school because they can't afford tuition. That's suffering, not a fifty percent paycut to the earnings of a city in a developing country. Yes, I realize that entertainers do not "own" or cause the suffering.

To most of their credit, we are not hearing the sad stories of multimillion dollar athletes living through the bonfire of the vanities. Many of these gentlemen perform community service and fund raise for worthwhile projects. Sure, sports gives us a diversion from life. But let's not confuse the mundane business negotiations between billionaires and millionaires with real life.

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