RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This week, all over America, NFL players are arriving at their team training camps to get ready for the 2016 football season. They're showing up for a job that requires they work barely six months out of the year, for which many will collect eight-figure salaries. ESPN's Pablo Torre suggest those who criticize those salaries might do well to recall the rules that govern our economy.
PABLO TORRE: The most popular TV show in America isn't "The Big Bang Theory" or "NCIS" or "The Walking Dead," not even close.
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TORRE: The National Football League makes more than $7 billion a year from TV broadcast rights alone. Last season, in fact, all but four of the top 50 most-watched shows in the country were NFL games, which makes pro football the most lucrative property in entertainment history, which makes the way America views the money earned by athletes, as opposed to actors, increasingly absurd.
Take Von Miller, a 26-year-old linebacker, who recently held out for 70 million guaranteed dollars from the Denver Broncos. Compared to, say, teachers and nurses, Miller's public demands garnered very little sympathy, so you heard a predictable chorus of complaints.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Is Von being a prima donna? You see the "Dancing With The Stars" all this stuff...
TORRE: About how athletes are lucky to play a game for work, how they're greedy to fight for even more compensation, how they don't deserve the salaries they're already paid. But that is a critique of capitalism, not Von Miller. A better measuring stick for a player isn't a teacher or nurse or social worker. It's Hollywood, it's A-list entertainers, it's actors because we don't really care that three actors on "The Big Bang Theory" make $1 million an episode. We don't debate whether The Rock deserves the 64.5 million he made last year. We don't feel a natural sympathy towards a billion-dollar entertainment company over a millionaire employee. We're here to watch these performers. Where else is all that revenue going to go?
In sports, our empathy toward the owners partly derives from fantasy football, itself a billion-dollar industry. We no longer want to be pro athletes. We want to be their bosses. Being a sports fan today means being a vicarious Von Miller bargain hunter, whether you grew up wearing a Broncos jersey or not.
And to be clear, bad investments, whether it's actors or athletes, should be called out as such. But the larger fact is that fans have always been conditioned to root for teams, proxies for our hometowns and ourselves, over individuals. Never mind that teams often receive millions in taxpayer money to pay for their arenas.
We root for billionaires over millionaires because the latter can betray us. Players, after all, tend to just leave town if they think their boss isn't being fair. Players generally value self-interest when it conflicts with company goals. Players like to believe that they deserve what the marketplace is willing to pay them, which is to say that for all the billions flowing into sports, we still can't relate to star athletes for a simple ironic reason. They act a little too much like us.
MONTAGNE: That's commentator Pablo Torre.
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