John Grindrod: The mystifying nature of who we value most financially
Most of us believe in a realm beyond our mortal lives, a place where we will measure our ethereal treasures quite differently than we do in this realm, with those pieces of paper with dead presidents. But, as long as we are part of this realm, people tend to care quite keenly about who is doing what for the work they are doing to keep the train of humanity on track.
I think people in my local paper will testify that two of the most popular and scrutinized editions each year are the two that list the salaries of those who work in our schools and in our government.
Just as these two newspaper editions are of great interest, there is no doubt that the annual edition of Parade Magazine, which comes out around Labor Day, provides details of what people earn for their work. This is where you’re likely to find salaries that run into the thousands for, say, a social worker or a teacher trying to help a troubled teenager navigate some pretty choppy waters, at salaries in the several million for someone like Johnny Depp, who was in the news pretty prominently last spring. For those who follow the whereabouts of the rich and famous, they were left wondering in a lawsuit that pitted Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard what kind of life could he have led where he managed to wasting almost all of what was once a net worth of $650 million.
Long ago, people’s work was valued, and the more the skill was coveted, the more workers were paid. However, as time passed and technology advanced to the point where entertainment took on a bigger role in our world, something happened. The salary disparity of Hollywood types and so many of our athletes and the rest of us working slugs has grown exponentially.
There was a time when professional athletes took jobs during their off seasons. For example, Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer in 1966 earned $7,500 in regular season dollars and an additional $11,000 bonus for his Orioles winning the World Series against the Dodgers. However, that wasn’t enough to make ends meet, so after the World Series parade, he took a second job selling suits at a men’s boutique in downtown Baltimore for $150 a week. He later recalled the extra money paid for groceries, hot water and electricity.
As for the NFL stars of yesteryear, like Palmer, most worked every offseason, including many on the Cleveland Browns’ last championship team in 1964. Offensive lineman John Wooten taught undergraduate math high school, first running back Jimmy Brown was a marketing rep for Pepsi-Cola and quarterback Frank Ryan, a Ph.D. in math, taught classes at Case Western Reserve, even teaching an in-season class at 8 a.m. before leaving for his football work two hours later.
These days, however, professional athletes never need to look for off-season work. The money earned is outrageous and, frankly, quite boring for this badass sports fan. Salaries for top baseball players easily top $25 million a year. In professional basketball, top sports stars top $40 million a year, like Golden State’s Steph Curry. It’s not just that guy in the commercials trying to get you to buy a Subway sandwich. When he’s not doing that, he’s dropping $43,333,333 per season dropping three. And, when Kansas City NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes isn’t throwing jokes at State Farm’s Jake, he’s making $45 million a year throwing passes.
In Hollywood, those who act in our movies and TV shows, sing for us or just talk to us, also receive such obscene salaries. What about The Rock’s reported 2020 salary of over $87 million? Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory in the show’s final season in 2019 earned $1 million per episode. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have also increased their antes to attract talent. For example, former James Bond Daniel Craig reportedly earned $100 million for directing two movies. As for singers, just ask Alexa what Taylor Swift’s annual salary is and prepare for your jaw to drop when you hear $150 million. Even people who just talk like Ryan Seacrest, who shares with Kelly Ripa on weekdays and also with American Idol judges are worth around $10 million a year.
As for what that says about our society, you be the judge. All I know is the question running through my mind: over time, how have we allowed those who only entertain us to win at such outrageous levels as those who teach our children, care for our sick, drive our trucks to deliver our goods, stock our store shelves, fix our leaky pipes and perform so many other essential services, in comparison, earn so little?
Like many rhetorical questions, not only does it not call for an answer, but perhaps there really is no answer.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, freelance writer and editor, and author of two books. Join it at [email protected]