Friday, October 28, 2016

You’re Making How Much?

As published in The County Times (

The interview went well.  An offer was made.  The job was accepted.  You landed in cubicle village hungry to produce, earn respect and advance.  After learning the ropes and chatting up veteran members of your new work family, your suspicions were confirmed: your position or department isn’t highly valued in the organization and, even among your second-class peers, you aren’t making an equitable salary. 

With professional careers now spanning well over three decades and job-hopping increasingly common, this is a situation – feeling underappreciated and underpaid - nearly everyone will experience (unless, of course, you follow the path of a certain presidential candidate who has never struggled to pay a bill or spent a day chasing a middle-class life). 

There are perfectly legitimate reasons, of course, for such predicaments: an inaccurate assessment of market value, a new entrant to the workforce, a temporary gig, starting a second career or a financially hastened employment decision.  And legitimate or not - and at the risk of sounding naïve and dated – it can be a temporary state if the tried and true trilogy of hard work, a positive attitude and shrewd maneuvering is deployed.   

In the meantime, working harder while making less than the slacker in the adjacent cube, despite the same job description, can be demoralizing, a natural and understandable reaction that retards the employee’s potential and threatens the development of a successful organizational culture.

It is this common sense lesson on human behavior and organizational health which makes what is happening in professional sports so fascinating.  The financial landscape in the NFL, NBA and MLB is being redefined yearly.  Monopoly money is being thrown around: $200M contracts and $20M annual salaries are the new normal. 

It is an indisputably good time to be really good at sports.  But, the bonanza is concentrating wealth in just a few positions and producing salary structures within individual teams that are grossly misaligned with talent and production. 

Consider these statements.  Golden State G Stephen Curry is the fourth highest paid Warriors’ player and will make less than half of teammate Kevin Durant’s 2016 salary.  The top six MLB salaries and eight of the top 10 belong to starting pitchers.  NFL quarterbacks claim the 14 highest 2016 salary cap figures and are the most expensive player on 23 of 32 teams.

Closer to home, John Wall, the second highest paid Wizard, will make roughly $17M less than Bradley Beal over the next three seasons.  Bryce Harper’s salary ranks tenth on the Nationals.  Joe Flacco ($22.5M) and Kirk Cousins ($19M) have the highest cap figures for the Ravens and ‘Skins, respectively, and make exponentially more than all-world Ravens G Marshal Yanda ($4M) and ‘Skins RT Morgan Moses ($864K), two offensive lineman tasked with protecting those expensive quarterbacks.

Lies, damn lies and statistics?  According to, all of it is true. 

With collectively bargained time-of-service-based salaries and structured free agency qualifications, this disparity is somewhat understandable.  Still, consider the environment such financial chaos creates.  Ultra-competitive athletes with an abbreviated career – those that last 10 years are rare – are asked to buy-in completely, give maximum effort and play hurt despite often either earning far below market value or a fraction of a lesser-talented or more valued teammates.

The point isn’t to prompt pity for offensive linemen or the Wall’s and Curry’s of the NBA; a professional athlete’s life is a glorious gig.  But those fortunate elite athletes are still human, manage a unique career arc and face the ever-present reality of an injury altering their career and financial outlook in a split second. 

It is amazing, then, and a credit to athletes and coaches (who no doubt double as psychologists), that holdouts aren’t prevalent and more teams aren’t compromised by the evolving business of professional sports.  Maybe players are just appreciative of the opportunity.  Of course that’s easy to do while making millions and hoping to make tens of millions.  Still, there’s something there, some hint of solace for the struggling cube dweller who is dutifully implementing the aforementioned trinity – hard work, a good attitude and strategic networking – and awaiting a deserved market correction of their own.

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