Thursday, December 9, 2010

About the Money



It's a vague recollection, but I remember it clearly. Is that a contradiction? Not really, I definitely recall an exchange in the main hallway of my old school. It was late afternoon, between 4:30 and 5:00p.m. As I remember, I was walking toward the main office probably turning in my attendance sheets. A student walked toward me and said hello. He called me by name. I reciprocated, calling him by name. He knew me though he was never in one of my classes. I knew him because I'd seen him play on our school's basketball team and many of my students were his friends. He had just signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the University of Kansas (KU) one the perennial powerhouses of college hoops.
I followed his career through ESPN and was only mildly surprised when he only played two years of collegiate ball and turned pro after only two years. The money is too big to turn down, especially for a kid from Richmond, California.
As with all NBA players, part of his initial salary went to establish a scholarship at his high school. Money well spent. According to tennis great Arthur Ashe, who used to give presentations nationwide, there are only a few thousand professional athletes in this country. That's all. If you take all the pro football, baseball, and basketball players, their number combined is less than 5,000. Given the number of kids who aspire to be professional athletes is in the millions. Ashe used to say that the odds of making it to the big show were 1 in 1000. "Would you bet your future at odds of a thousand to one?" he'd ask.
Yet, they all have the dream, and rightly so. Most don't really care about the odds.
A couple of weeks ago I asked a friend about this particular basket ballplayer because it's been almost 10 years now. I was curious if he was still playing in the NBA and if the scholarship fund was still in tact. I knew he had been traded a few times and enjoyed mild success, but was now more of a journeyman. So I decided to do a little research and found that at this point in his career he has played for no less than 9 NBA teams. On his way out? Hardly, I further read that he just signed a 5 year 32 million dollar contract. Guess the scholarship will be around for awhile.
I tell this story only because it underscores more about the values of this culture than a 10,000 word essay, prolifically illustrated, ever could. He's on his way out of the NBA and is earning 6.2 million a year for the next 5 years.
Every year people try to convince me and others that we really care about education. That it really isn't about money. That this country and culture are the greatest ever. (BTW why must one always be better than all others?) I certainly don't begrudge any professional athlete form earning a living wage. But really now...
The battle lines have been drawn in this latest attempt to ward off a corporate takeover. Teachers won't be signing 5 year deals but like the world of corporate athletics, will be under pressure to produce or fail to make the cut. Their stats will be published in the local press, if injured, their contracts will not be renewed. Unlike the pro athletes, they feel no pressure to terminate their education early. In fact, as teachers, they are lifelong students.
No, it's not about the money. I wouldn't know how to live on 6 million a year. I wouldn't want all the madness that would bring. Aside from a decent place to live, if I had excess money I'd travel. But then, I think a teaching credential should be a boarding pass to anywhere at anytime anyway.

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