The blatant obscenities of some things are so obvious that writing about them seems superfluous. Silence, however, would be unforgivable.
Recently, several professional basketball players reached the ends of their contracts and became free agents. That means they could sell their sports talent to the highest bidders. And, high bidders there were.
Michael Jordan will be the National Basketball Association's highest paid player next year. He agreed to a one-year contract worth at least $25 million. Shaquille O'Neal was offered $120 million for seven years, which means he will receive only $17.14 million a year. Juwan Howard agreed to a seven-year contract for $105 million. Gary Payton is scheduled to receive a paltry $85 million over the next seven years. And the list goes on.
Let's put this into perspective. Michael Jordan, by consensus the greatest player in professional basketball, will receive more for playing a kid's game next year than Lady Di will receive in her divorce settlement with the man who will be one of the richest in the world. A more relevant example — the entire budget for the Louisiana Baptist State Convention for the same year will be only 70 percent of Michael Jordan's salary.
The 1995-1996 Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program budget was $141,629,127. That is less than one professional team agreed to pay two players over the next seven years. To put it another way, the entire annual receipts of all churches affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention in 1995 were $220,666,017. Analogy: $200 million will get you two professional basketball players' skills for seven years, or run the entire Southern Baptist Convention and all its enterprises for a year and three months. Or, that $200 million will get you those two players, or run 1,364 Louisiana Baptist churches for about 10 months.
Total receipts from all Southern Baptists to the 1996 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions was an impressive $89 million. That would not pay Shaq O'Neal's seven-year contract. Analogy: $90 million will pay about one-half a year's operating expenses for the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and its 5,000 missionaries, or pay about five and a quarter years worth of Shaq's contract.
Basketball players are not the only sports figures paid such incredible salaries. Top athletes of all professional sports receive salaries registering in the millions of dollars. And, endorsements for all kinds of sporting equipment bring them additional millions. Getting all you can get for what you do is the American way. Everyone seems to say, "If they can get it, more power to them."
But, these huge salaries say volumes about our society. Team owners can pay these salaries because the public — you and I — are willing to eventually pay the salaries. We will either pay the ticket prices to go to the game, or sit in front of television that intersperses games with commercials, or buy the shoes the athletes endorse, or pay for just about anything bearing the name and logo of a favored team.
These salaries, in comparison to how much we give to support the institutional/mission efforts of America's religions and charities, reveal a nation with misplaced values. Are we actually willing to say that a man's efforts on a basketball court, where a victory or loss only transfers into more or less money and/or pride and an hour's entertainment, is worth all the efforts of all the churches affiliated with a state Baptist convention?
Apparently, that is what Americans believe.
Okay, let's assume these sports figures are going to be paid tens of millions a year. If they are worth that — or at least they can demand that — let's give proportionately to support the enterprise that effuses eternity into whatever life we have in this nation.
Maybe the huge salaries do not say how what we think of sports as how little we think of religion.
Lynn P. Clayton is the editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.