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No financial parity in sports world

By By Stan Torgerson
May 30, 2002
From this point on your fate is in your own hands. We're going to give you choices concerning your future.
Option one. We're going to put you in a stock car along with 42 other hell-for-leather men just like yourself in their cars and make you drive around in circles for 600 miles at an average speed of 137.729 mph. You will be in that car for four hours, 21 minutes and 23 seconds.
There will be no port-o-potties along the way so your bladder had better be working well. Also those other 42 guys will be running alongside, back of or in front of you and if you had a horn and blew it often and loud enough to stir the residents of the nearest graveyard those other guys would not get out of your way nor would you get out of theirs.
At that near 138 mph speed you know every time out there could be an accident that would put you in the hospital long enough to know all the nurses by their first names or for your family to meet the neighborhood undertaker.
But if you are leading this traffic jam 600 miles after it begins you will get a check for $280,033, like Mark Martin did last Sunday.
On the other hand we can offer you the choice of dressing up in a neatly pleated pair of fine and colorful slacks, set off by a perfectly fitted shirt and shoes to compliment the outfit, send you off on a four hour walk through God's nature of gorgeous grass, handsome trees, lovely flowers with sunlight and light breezes, with a companion to do the heavy lifting and carrying while you take 68, 69 or 70 swings with a golf club in four hours, or about one every three to four minutes, find soft drinks available to quench your thirst whenever necessary, sandwiches or candy bars available at your beck and call and rest stops handy whenever your bladder has a sudden urge to rest and if you do that for four days, with no risk to your health or well-being, we will hand you a check for $800,000 like they did to Jim Furyk Sunday.
Which would you prefer?
I think I know.
There are exceptions to that rational, of course. Tiger Woods picked up only $1 million for his four days at the Masters. Helio Castroneves had to ride around in Indianapolis for just three hours and 10 minutes to earn $1.6 million. On the other Tiger only splits his prize with his caddy and his agent while Castroneves has an owner who gets a piece, a pit crew which does the same and an agent with his hand out too. Net net, Tiger probably puts as much in his pocket as Helio does in his. Tiger's only worry is a bee sting. Helio runs the risk of getting killed every time he starts that engine.
But there's no question that financial parity doesn't exist in the world of sports. The athletes get paid for their ability to sell tickets. Tiger has played in 10 tournaments this year and has won over $3 million. The purses are bigger on the men's tour because more people want to see them play. Anita Sorenstam, who tops the women's money list, has played in eight and won $759,000. That's because fewer people want to watch the ladies hit the golf ball. The number 34 player on the men's tour, Fred Funk, has won more money, $771,000, than the number one player on the women's tour. He's also had 16 tournaments in which to play. The women have had only 10 and Sorenstam skipped two of those.
Only in pro tennis are the scales balanced. Andre Agassi has pocketed $935,000 so far this year. Martina Hingis has won the same, $935,000.
We've picked individual sports, auto racing, golf and tennis to illustrate the point because those athletes are out there on their own. Nobody is lifting them up when they have a bad day. Dollar figures are pretty good scoreboards as to how your skills compare in the field in which you participate.
There is no way to compare individual sports with team sports. There's always an idiot owner who will pay someone $12 million to play 162 baseball games or who decides that a down lineman is worth $1 million or more for getting his nose rubbed in the dirt or who equates height with dollars, the taller the better, the better the more highly paid.
Don't misunderstand. If those owners are dumb enough and rich enough to throw money around like popcorn at the county fair so be it. I'd get all I could too and apologize to no man for doing it.
But when you sit there and watch these guys drive 200 miles per hour fender to fender and then see one of those horrific crashes in which the car literally flies apart while the driver is relying on some canvas belts and hard plastic to keep him alive it's got to be pretty hard to say, "That's my boy in there" without panicking.
The most that can happen on the golf course is a low flying bird with bad toilet training, too much sunshine or an errant golf ball that has been misdirected by some tree.
Do you know what Hobson's choice is? That's when there are two possible decisions to a problem and they're both bad. If one of Hobson's choices is to drive race cars for a living, don't bother telling me about the other one.

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