Manitoba·Opinion

For my money: Winnipeg Jets salaries show priorities off, Janine LeGal writes

If poets could convince 15,000 people to fill the MTS Centre at $200 per ticket, they might command million-dollar salaries. But what about really looking at what and who we value in our society?

What would happen if we started really looking at how we value ALL professionals?

The Winnipeg Jets announced a few weeks ago that the team had signed Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year contract extension. The defenceman's salary is valued around $7.6 million annually. Is it just me or is anybody else out there wondering how this kind of thing happens? 

I did a quick Google search and was flabbergasted to learn what popular athletes are earning. I asked my partner what he thought. He's a huge Jets fan and never misses a game on TV. He'd attend all the games if we had an income that allowed for that sort of thing. "No, I'm not okay with it. But it's entertainment," he said. Eeeeek, I held back from shouting. How about music and art and theatre and dance and literature and film and and and? Wouldn't it be something if we valued our creative people even one-tenth as much?

How is it that it's okay to pay a hockey player that much money? Or is it? Who makes these decisions anyway? And who supports those decisions? Are fans all good with that? How will we ever find out the answers if we don't ask the questions? I often wonder how we decide where to place monetary value.

Teachers and those who work with special needs kids, in hospitals and care homes, taking care of our elders and sick family members, are often painfully underpaid. Artists, musicians and even award-winning poets and writers are counting coins to pay the bills. Blue-collar workers slave away at thankless gut-wrenchingly tough jobs, in harsh (at times dangerous) environments, working extra long shifts toiling away every day to get their meagre paycheques every two weeks. You don't have to visit developing countries to find that. You can see it all right here in Winnipeg. And many of those same workers are the ones who would do almost anything to be able to afford to see a game.

Supply and demand

The world of non-profit workplaces deals with some of the most important social, medical and environmental issues and concerns in people's lives, and yet workers, often expected to be highly educated and otherwise qualified, are making at times just barely above minimum wage. Kind of scary when you really start looking at it. Maybe that's why we don't.

Of course it's supply and demand that determines most things, and as one colleague put it, if poets could convince 15,000 people to fill the MTS Centre at $200 per ticket, they might command million-dollar salaries too. But what about really looking at what and who we value in our society? What are our priorities and why? It pains me to acknowledge that my partner is contributing to Byfuglien's salary by watching all the games on TV and in turn allowing advertisers the resources they pay to advertise during the games. And we all know where all of that ends up, along with the game tickets, jerseys, mugs, blankets, slippers, tuques and countless other sports fan schwag: happy hockey players making big money.

Now, while I'm admittedly not a sports fan, I'm not against professionals being paid well for their work. What would happen if we started really looking at how we value ALL professionals? Maybe shining a light on this could teach us something about our priorities. A good hard look at our society shows people living in isolation, in poverty, even homelessness. A significant number of people struggling with substance abuse addictions. A high degree of violence. A lack of resources and respite for people looking after high- and special-needs individuals. A large number of people working two or three jobs, the working poor who barely make ends meet.

It doesn't have to be either/or. I'm not suggesting that athletes not be paid well. I am wondering though what would happen if we began to look at what we valued a little more closely. We don't have enough home-care workers, hospital workers, foster homes and parents. This is but a partial list. What if looking after those struggling in our communities became the norm? The resources are there. Perhaps a little redistribution is in order. I'm sure Byfuglien and his associates could get by with, I don't know, say three or four million? I've never been good at math, but I do know that that would free up a whole lot of cash to compensate lots of other hard-working people. Then maybe they could all afford to see a game too.

Janine LeGal is a freelance writer and a grassroots activist​ in Winnipeg.

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