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An Overlooked Difference Between Professional Athletes and Professional Teachers

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A few weeks ago, I clapped for a usually mundane spectacle in the spectrum of NYC sports: New York Yankees' Hall-of-Fame-bound shortstop Derek Jeter's sincere press conference regarding his re-signing with the Bronx Bombers. In it, he stated:

"I was pretty angry about it, but I let that be known. I was angry about it because I was the one that said I didn't want to do it, that I wasn't going to (test the market). To hear the organization tell me to go shop it when I just told you I wasn't going to, if I'm going to be honest, I was angry about it."

As an ardent Yankees fan, I couldn't have agreed more. How could the Yankees take negotiations out to the media, letting crude demands slip out about their living legend and in the process weakening the value of their everyday shortstop? Naturally, people who see professional sports on the macro-level notice the grossly inappropriate value system that allows a man who goes to work 163 days out of the year for about 4 hours in those days, excluding practices, get paid millions of dollars while public service workers, mainly teachers, get a salary the equivalent of half of his daily income.

These salaries make it easy to pinpoint the player, but the game is much more intricate than we first perceive.

For instance, the salary of a football player isn't paid against the average household salary, and even if fans are public stakeholders in the fortunes and failures of these professional teams, the salary is actually a reflection of the inflated industries behind their payment. The average NFL franchise, for instance, is worth $960 million, with the Dallas Cowboys estimated at around $1.5 billion. Their latest complex, Cowboys Stadium, cost $1.3 billion to make, about a fourth of which came directly from taxpayer money. How can one blame the NFL Players' Association, a strong union, for trying to negotiate millions of dollars for their players in light of this? About 53 players per franchise need to be paid at least $355K, and they get paid the more (and the better) they play (experience actually raises their base salary). Also, each franchise uses its players as prime time gladiators that people can pretend to emulate and adore through merchandise and statistics.

In other words, each athlete directly makes money for their business.

In contrast, public school teachers are struggling with a system currently under attack from corporatists trying to outsource education to the private sector. The education operations budget in NYC, for instance, is $18.5 billion, and even with the United Federation of Teachers (the big bad teachers union highlighted in the plethora of foreboding articles), the average minimum salary is around $47K, maximum base salary of $95K. I think Peyton Manning sneezes that out for every Sony HDTV commercial he makes. It might seem like lots of money, but compared to the cost of living in NYC, most teachers are living check to check for their first few years.

Since most teachers' audiences are children, their true worth only get analyzed in retrospect, in comparison to the next teacher or in a nostalgic and proud moment of that childhood.

An underlying argument could (and should) be made for this nation to raise the salaries of teachers (and other public service workers) for one of the most affluent and powerful nations in the world instead of contracting no-bid contracts to companies Halliburton and Bechtel with no interest in strengthening the infrastructure. Clearly, when there's very little discussion about how much public servants get paid to ensure that one of America's greatest institutions stays afloat despite so many external factors impeding its success, they have every right to feel anger towards those who dare question their professionalism and their profession.

Those that control these decisions know that most teachers really don't want to be anywhere else. Most teachers enter the profession wanting to help students achieve at their optimal levels, all while earning an appropriate salary that matches the perception of the work teachers do and the actual work they do. Becoming a teacher is as much profession as passion, but if the American people can be convinced by leaks or rumor that teachers are simply not good enough to reach our students anymore, then that undermines any negotiations that occur.

That is unless teachers see to it that we speak loudly about these indiscretions, whether with perseverance in the classroom or activism outside the classroom. Not saying that Derek Jeter is an activist, but his candid reaction towards the people he sat next to during that press conference gives us a good window into both America's pastime and America's educational institution.

It's not about biting the hand that feeds you; it's about recognizing the sustenance and nutritional value of the food in the hand.