By John J. Duncan Jr.
Johnny Akridge ran a small furniture store in Happy Hollow just below the old Sears on Central. His son, Chip, became one of the biggest developers of office buildings in downtown Washington, D.C.
After he started becoming very successful, Chip got his brother, Steve, to move to Washington to work for him. Mr. Akridge said one day that Steve told him, “Dad, there’s no difference between what I was doing in Knoxville and what I am doing in Washington, except we just added three zeroes.”
I suppose this is true all over the world – the main difference between big business and small business is a few more zeroes.
It is also true in government. The federal government is doing many things that state and local governments do, but with many more zeroes.
The late Senator Everett Dirksen once famously said “a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
After a while, the zeroes seem to lose their meaning. Many years ago we talked about billions the way we talk about trillions now, such as the trillions that have been wasted on our foolish and unnecessary wars in the Middle East.
I thought about all this in relation to the ridiculous salaries being paid now to some athletes and coaches.
The University of Tennessee head football coach has just been given a $4,000,000 raise to $9,000,000 a year. This comes out to about $171,000 a week or roughly $24,000 a day.
He seems like a very nice man and a great football coach. But I believe down deep inside, even he would admit he is not worth $24,000 a day.
This pay for athletes and coaches has just gotten ridiculous – in fact, I think it is sinful.
I grew up playing all kinds of sports and I sold programs at UT football games and popcorn and cokes at the basketball games.
Throughout most of my life I have been a really big sports fan, but this crazy money, these ridiculous salaries, have almost ruined it for me.
When I was in Congress, the Republicans had two African-American men serving as our Parliamentarians. I was often asked to preside in the Speaker’s Chair since I had been a judge. Many times before the session started or during brief recesses, I would talk sports with these two men. One day one of them asked me what I thought about the Washington Nationals signing Max Scherzer, a great pitcher, to a $240 million contract, $30 million a year. I said, “It might surprise you, but I find it almost impossible to root for anyone making $30 million a year.”
Auburn agreed to pay a man $21.7 million to not coach. Now they are going to have to pay another $15 million to get rid of the coach who replaced him but did not pan out, either.
At the barber shop a few years ago, I told the barber, Roy Berrier, that Phillip Fulmer was a good friend of mine and a really fine man, but I added: “He has to be the luckiest man I know. How many people do you know who could be fired, paid $6,000,000 for leaving, and have everybody in East Tennessee feel sorry for him?” If Coach Fulmer was being let go today he would probably get a lot more than six million.
At a hearing a few years ago on drug prices, one of the witnesses who headed a big drug company admitted her salary that year was $19.8 million. I told her I didn’t think anyone could really “earn” that much money.
When LSU Coach Ed Orgeron was fired before this past season, he was so happy he was going to be paid the $17.1 million left on his contract to not coach, he responded this way: “I said, ‘What time do you want me to leave and what door do you want me out of, brother?’”
Every major university could get great football coaches for far less than these people are being paid today. Any university whose athletic department is taking in so many millions of dollars should not have the gall to keep asking state legislators to also give them millions from low and middle-income taxpayers.