Blackboards versus Scoreboards
Millions of Americans live in poverty. Families suffering from hunger are prevalent, with the number of people living in homeless shelters obviously on a high – just strolling down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California on any ordinary day conveys it all. While so many people fear not having the money to put food on the table or to live under a sturdy roof, we watch celebrities and professional athletes getting paid millions of dollars to act in films, to play sports, essentially to entertain those with the means – the time and the money – of enjoying such leisure.
Any direct criticism against these celebrities or athletes themselves must be spared considering the fact that they work hard to get to where they are – well, at least most of them do. They are not at fault essentially. They are only able to make so much money because people, excluding those without the means, go to see movies and live games – buying tickets sometimes for ridiculous prices. Even those who go the way of pointing out their seemingly unreasonable incomes, like myself, engage in such leisurely activities.
Let me lay out some pure facts though – just a few numbers. American actors like Leonardo DiCaprio make millions of dollars starring in a single movie – he made $25 million for The Wolf of Wall Street. While according to the Sports Illustrated, the average earning of this year’s top 50 highest paid American athletes is at $24.3 million dollars. I am very well aware that actors and actresses like DiCaprio as well as professional athletes like Miami Heat’s LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant are highly talented, but how is it that we justify paying them so much money? LeBron and Kobe have $57 and $50 million total earnings, respectively. With $50 million dollars, you could feed 250,000 people three decent meals – spending a good $20 per person.
I can imagine a good number of economists, skeptical readers right now finding problems with my demonstration referring to common economic concepts like demand and supply. Keep in mind. I am simply making an observation from a single perspective – just speculating on why celebrities and athletes are paid so much more compared to other professions such as teachers or firefighters, who give more to propelling the society forward by educating the future generation and who risk their lives saving the lives of others.
Such cultural and societal, both monetary and non-material attention and upholding of celebrities and athletes seem to have ramifications beyond rationality in the lives of high school students in the United States. First of all according to The Atlantic, “the United States routinely spends more tax dollars per high-school athlete than per high-school math student – unlike most countries worldwide. And we wonder why we lag in international education rankings.” Unequal allocation is prevalent. Likewise, student athletes not only get more attention from the school systems at the federal and state levels but also more attention and admiration from their peers. Why is it that a talent in sports seems to hold more value than a talent in mathematics? Intelligence in an area of academics seems to be somewhat undervalued.
Moving to the United States at an early age of six from South Korea, I was given the opportunity of observing everything in this new country with fresh eyes, including the basic feature of American life that most Americans never stop to reconsider: the significance of sports. In South Korea, the looks of mixed admiration and jealousy are cast upon the students with the highest academic grades. Here, however, all attention is driven towards those talented in sports. On most high school campuses, there is a common scene: the cheerleaders with their bouncy ponytails strutting about with confidence, the football players exchanging their exclusive fist pumps in between classes. During homecoming month, classes are actually shortened every Friday for an event called pep rally thrown for the football team. Its sole purpose is to “encourage school spirit” and to show support for the football players. Taking time out of class in order to honor the event of an upcoming football game that is.
The same kind of priority is reflected up through college. Football and men’s basketball players, to name just a few major sports out of many, gain admission to elite universities. Somehow being a sports player gives access to higher education, and not just access to it but at times full scholarships for it – almost entirely based on the player’s athletic ability. The academic criteria for the admission of student athletes are far below those for ordinary students. Further, colleges go the way of providing under-qualified athletes with academic advisers who point them toward easier courses and majors, offering tremendous amounts of academic coaching and tutoring.
The American academic system needs to get its priorities straight, and people need to start thinking more about why there is such an incredible amount of investment in entertainment. In the United States, there exists this strong strain of anti-intellectualism – hence the terms “nerd” or “geek” often used in name-calling. Intellectual culture is undervalued, with far less support than should be, while athletics and theatrics are overvalued. When colleges, so-called “higher education”, starts lowering standards of academic excellence for the purpose of increasing standards of athletic excellence, we start to face a problem. The superiority of athletics must be subsided.